While most of the attention tonight will be on Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin, Donte' Stallworth, and how the Ravens' new offense meshes, there are a number of players lower on the roster for which the preseason opener against the Panthers holds a different importance.
For the rookies, this will be their first chance to get a true taste of NFL action. They will need to come out and prove that they can hang at this level. For a number of more experienced players, this game will be a big opportunity to position themselves for a roster spot.
Here are four such players on the offensive side of the ball to keep your eyes on tonight (Why four? Why not?):
Ed Dickson, TE
Dickson has probably been the most impressive rookie in training camp so far. He has explosive speed, great hands, and presents a big target down the field. The third-round pick is second on the depth chart behind Todd Heap right now, and has been getting some time with the first-team offense in practice. Dickson could help cement himself as the backup tight end with a solid performance tonight.
Marcus Smith, WR
Back from a torn ACL which cost him the entire 2009 season, Smith is trying to earn a roster spot as the fifth wide receiver. He needs to make the most of his opportunities on offense, but maybe more importantly, he needs to continue his strong play on special teams. The 2008 fourth-round pick has excelled as a gunner, and developed into one of the Ravens' top special teams players prior to his injury last summer. He's fighting with Demetrius Williams and Justin Harper for a spot on the 53-man, and a strong preseason could give him an edge.
Mike McLaughlin, FB
Last year, McLaughlin was one of Boston College's top linebackers. Now, the undrafted rookie is trying to stick with the Ravens as a fullback. He has the perfect fullback mentality - he's always looking for someone to hit - but he admits he still needs work on the fundamentals of the position. As the only other fullback on the roster behind Le'Ron McClain, McLaughlin should get plenty of playing time tonight. Can he rise to the occasion and prove that he's worthy of a serious look from the coaching staff?
Ramon Harewood, OT
Harewood has been one of the most pleasant surprises of training camp. The sixth-round pick came out of nowhere: he's only played football for three and a half years, played his college ball at a tiny Division II school, and missed almost every offseason minicamps because of a knee injury. Despite all that, Harewood has come on very strong the last few weeks, and due to injuries to Jared Gaither and Tony Moll, has earned some reps with the first-team at right tackle. He should get time with the second-team offense tonight, and might alternate between both right and left tackle.