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As the calendar turns to September, we’ve finally reached the light at the end of the preseason tunnel as the Ravens travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons on Thursday night.
Of course, interest isn’t exactly bubbling over in the final preseason game, but plenty of players will be fighting for their professional lives, whether with Baltimore or the 31 other NFL teams that will trim down their rosters to 53 on Saturday.
It’s unknown how long the starters will play against the Falcons, but John Harbaugh and the coaching staff will at least give the revamped offensive line — particularly newly-signed left tackle Bryant McKinnie — a brief look in live-game action during the first quarter. The reins will then be turned over to veteran backups and rookies trying to stake their final claims as to why they belong among the 53 that will take the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11.
Thursday night marks the third time in four years the Ravens and Falcons will meet in the preseason finale and the seventh time in the last nine years they’ve faced off during the preseason. The Ravens hold a 4-3 edge in the preseason series between the two teams with five of those games being played at the Georgia Dome.
Baltimore and Atlanta have met four times in the regular season, splitting those games. The Falcons won the most recent contest, a 26-21 thriller that took place on a Thursday night in Atlanta last season.
Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth played for Atlanta in 2008, starting 10 of 14 games and grabbing one interception while defending 11 passes.
On the opposing side, the Falcons have two former Baltimore draft picks in fullback Ovie Mughelli and backup quarterback Chris Redman. Mughelli played his first four seasons (2003-06) with the Ravens while Redman, a former third-round pick, spent four seasons (2000-03) and made six starts in 2002 before going down with a back injury.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith was the Baltimore defensive assistant/defensive line coach and linebackers coach (1999-2002) and is the brother-in-law of former Ravens coach Brian Billick. Atlanta defensive backs coach Alvin Reynolds was the Ravens secondary coach during the franchise’s first three seasons in Baltimore (1996-98).
Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg held the same position with the Falcons in 2007.
Most starters will only see brief playing time while key veterans such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are unlikely to play at all in the final preseason game. However, the Ravens are still dealing with a few injuries where concern could linger into the first week of the regular season.
Right guard Marshal Yanda has returned to practice and is expected to see some playing time, but center Matt Birk’s status remains up in the air. The 35-year-old center returned to the practice field on Saturday after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery at the beginning of training camp. When asked earlier in the week if he wanted to play against the Falcons, Birk said his goal was to be ready for the Sept. 11 opener.
Receiver Lee Evans (left foot), cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring), and offensive lineman Mark LeVoir were all absent from practice this week.
Evans hasn’t participated in practice since the third preseason game against Washington and was seen in a walking boot during Saturday’s practice. Carr has battled a left hamstring injury, which has forced him to miss the last two preseason games while being an intermittent participant during practices.
LeVoir’s injury is unknown as the swing lineman missed practice on Monday and Tuesday.
7 Bubble Players to Watch
1. LB Tavares Gooden – The 2008 third-round pick has never lived up to expectations, battling injuries and a perception of being a soft player in his first three seasons with the Ravens. Having fallen behind Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, and Brendon Ayanbadejo in the fight for playing time next to Ray Lewis in the Ravens’ 3-4 base defense, Gooden has to hope his play in the nickel package as well as his special teams contributions are enough to earn one of the final spots on the roster.