It’ll be a homecoming of sorts for a number of members of the Chiefs organization when the boys from Kansas City roll into M&T Bank Stadium tonight to face the Ravens in the second preseason game of 2011.
Given the makeup of the Chiefs’ roster, you could joke that if the Jets are Baltimore-north, Kansas City is Baltimore-midwest. Defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, fullback Le’Ron McClain, offensive tackle Jared Gaither, quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn and even a member of the Chiefs’ PR staff will be back in Baltimore taking on the team that they were a part of last season.
While it will be nice to welcome that crew back, there are bigger, more important things we need to be watching for tonight. Head coach John Harbaugh has said that he believes a player’s biggest improvement often comes between the first game and the second, so with that in mind, here are five Ravens who will need to deliver solid performances tonight:
1. Jah Reid, RT
It could certainly be argued that of anyone on the Ravens’ roster, Reid has the most riding on his performance in tonight’s game. If the rookie third-round pick shows well as the Ravens’ starting right tackle, tonight could be the night that he grabs a hold of the job. If Reid struggles against K.C., the Ravens might realize that they’ll need to move guard Marshal Yanda back to right tackle, at least for the early part of the season. Reid has gotten practically every single snap at the right tackle spot in practices this week. Can he perform under pressure tonight and develop a little stability at a position which, to this point in camp, has been in flux?
2. Torrey Smith, WR
Smith’s preseason opener didn’t go exactly as he would have hoped (the rookie recorded zero catches despite having three passes thrown his way), and the next day, the Ravens traded for wide receiver Lee Evans, bumping Smith down to the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. Still, Smith will be heavily relied upon this season, and it would be nice to see him bounce back from a rough debut and show the speed and impressive hands that the Ravens know he possesses.
3. Cary Williams, CB
Yes, everyone is excited to see what rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith can do tonight in his first extended playing time since joining the Ravens. Throw me into that group, as well. But we all know Smith will end up playing a significant role on the Ravens’ defense this season. We aren’t so sure that Williams - who has been mostly a special teams guy during his time in Baltimore - has earned a spot in the Ravens’ secondary just yet. Williams has had a very strong training camp, and his size (6-foot-1, 182 lbs.) makes him an intriguing option opposite another big-bodied corner like Smith. But unlike Smith, Williams isn’t a first-round pick, and he needs to prove he’s worthy of earning playing time over veterans like Domonique Foxworth, Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb. Tonight could be his showcase, as Williams is expected to start and play significant minutes.
4. Justin Boren G/C
Most undrafted rookies don’t get a chance to earn reps with the first team in training camp, but that’s exactly what Boren has gotten this week. The Ohio State product has spent some time lining up at right guard with the Ravens’ top offensive unit, and he has shown some promise. With Yanda out tonight because of back spasms, Oniel Cousins will likely start at right guard, but Boren will be the first guy off the bench to take snaps at that spot. Cousins has struggled in practice, and if Boren plays well tonight, he could earn himself even more time with the first-team in practices, and possibly, a reserve spot along the O-line.
5. Pernell McPhee, DE
I wrote earlier this week about how sharp McPhee has looked in his first NFL training camp, and the rookie can continue to make an impression with another big outing tonight. McPhee, a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft, has gotten rave reviews from the coaching staff the last couple weeks, and his never-ending motor and work ethic have allowed him to rise up the depth chart. Can the Mississippi State product continue to earn more playing time and evolve into a key sub player on the Ravens’ defensive line come the regular season? A strong showing tonight sure wouldn’t hurt those efforts, that’s for sure.