What to watch in Ravens’ preseason opener

The preseason opener is just a day away, meaning it’s time to see the Ravens take the field for the first time since winning the Super Bowl - no matter how vanillafied it may be.

It’s more than possible, quite likely even, that you won’t get much of a feel for the new-look squad until Sept. 5 in Denver. But this is an important preseason for a few reasons, so let’s scan some as Baltimore prepares to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Which receivers will develop chemistry with Joe Flacco now that Anquan Boldin is gone and Dennis Pitta is done for the year?

Flacco has a couple of familiar targets remaining in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, but he lost his No. 1 receiver (Boldin) and a comfortable outlet (Pitta).

Smith and Jones will be able to handle the outside with their speed, but who will Flacco be able to look to over the middle?

“We’ve got a couple of those guys at wide receiver - Tandon (Doss) and Deonte (Thompson),” Flacco told reporters this week. “I think the one thing Deonte gives you that you normally don’t have in the middle is that speed. Normally those guys running outside ... I think he gives you some speed in there. But Tandon is that real strong-handed guy that can go up and make some catches for you, and he’s got a good feel for how to run the routes in there.”

So we might not have seen much of Doss and Thompson last year, but it sounds like Flacco is anticipating some big things from the young receivers. The preseason will at least give an idea whether that confidence is founded.

What will the overhauled defense look like without the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed?

The Ravens defense was the subject of the majority of the front office’s focus during the offseason and it takes on an entirely new character.

Former centerpieces Lewis, Reed and Bernard Pollard are gone. So are up-and-coming contributors Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams.

A defensive front that includes Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty and Marcus Spears looks quite good on paper. But three of those five guys just got here, and chemistry can’t be understated in the ultimate team sport. So whether all the pieces fit together as the Ravens hope remains to be seen.

But the preseason will provide important snaps for the newcomers - including safeties Michael Huff and Matt Elam - to get a feel for each other in game situations, learn each others’ tendencies and develop chemistry before the games start to count.

What about specifically at middle linebacker?

Lewis’ old job is the one that had perhaps the most questions going into camp. But at least the Ravens seem to have some quality depth at inside linebacker.

Even if Jameel McClain’s spinal contusion lingers on to keep him off the field, the team has veteran Daryl Smith, Josh Bynes, second-rounder Arthur Brown and Albert McClellan.

Smith has a long track record of success and extensive experience with the Jaguars, but is coming off some injury issues. If those are behind him, the Ravens could have quite a find there.

Will the Ravens be OK at tight end if Ed Dickson can’t heal up quickly?

When Pitta went down, there wasn’t a massive panic because the Ravens still had Dickson on the roster. Dickson is just a year removed from an exceptional season where he had 54 catches for 528 yards. Injuries were a problem for him last year and now he’ll be out at least a week with a hamstring ailment.

The Ravens signed veteran Visanthe Shiancoe, but he was limited to just four games for the Patriots last season and wasn’t much of a factor. Dickson isn’t expected to miss a lot of time, but Shiancoe could end up being the key to providing the Ravens with another tight end passing option for Flacco.

“Shank is catching on pretty quickly and he is learning the offense and getting better and better each day,” Flacco told reporters. “You can see the improvement with his confidence in what he is doing.”