The final game of the preseason might be boring to an average NFL fan. Heck, it might be boring to a big-time NFL fan.
But to hundreds of players around the league, this week is absolutely crucial, as guys make their final push to try and earn spots on teams’ 53-man rosters. Heck, even those eight practice squad slots (which pay over $100,000 for the year) are huge to a young player trying to get his start in the NFL.
Many of the Ravens’ starters won’t play at all tonight. Quarterback Joe Flacco and some others will likely only see a couple series. But for a bunch of guys on the Ravens’ roster, tonight will be a huge opportunity to impress the coaching staff and try and become one of John Harbaugh’s “53 mighty men”.
Here are five guys to watch tonight when the Ravens take on the Falcons:
Matt Birk, C
The other four players on this list are all battling for roster spots. Birk is just battling an ailing knee. The Ravens’ starting center returned to practice this week after having knee surgery early in August, and with the regular season opener against the Steelers looming, it will be interesting to see how close to full strength Birk is. I expect the 35-year-old to play at least a series tonight, and Ravens fans should keep an eye on how Birk is moving against Atlanta’s defensive line.
Chykie Brown, CB
Watching Brown this camp, there have been very few times where I remember him standing out because of a positive play. The fifth-round pick out of Texas has been burned by nearly every wide receiver on the Ravens’ roster, and he might have been passed in the coaches’ minds by undrafted rookie Josh Victorian, who has had a nice camp. But the front office saw something in Brown when they selected the 5-foot-11, 191-lb. corner in April’s draft, and if he delivers tonight, he might earn himself a practice squad spot.
James Hardy, WR
A lingering hamstring injury has effectively crushed Hardy’s chances of making the Ravens’ roster, but, able to return to practice this week, the former second-round pick could see significant minutes against the Falcons. It’d be hard to imagine Hardy pushing fellow wide receivers LaQuan Williams or Marcus Smith out of a roster spot given how little he’s been able to show the coaching staff this camp, but if he goes out there and grabs seven balls for 125 yards, who knows? His size and speed - when healthy - could make him worth a flier if he shows well.
Anthony Allen, RB
Allen might be involved in one of the toughest roster decisions the Ravens will need to make prior to Saturday’s final round of roster cuts. The 2011 seventh-round draft pick has come on strong in training camp, and while he’s had a couple miscues with dropped passes and fumbles, Allen is making a legitimate push for the third running back spot behind Ray Rice and Ricky Williams. Do the Ravens go with the more proven Jalen Parmele, or take a shot on the physical 6-foot-1, 230-lb. Allen? The rookie will need a solid performance tonight to put himself in firmer standing.
Michael McAdoo, DE/OLB
We don’t really know what to expect from McAdoo, a rookie out of UNC who wasn’t selected in the supplemental draft but was signed by the Ravens last week. McAdoo is incredibly lanky for an edge pass rusher (6-foot-7, 245-lbs.) and could use a good year - or two, for that matter - in the weight room. Scouts believe he has some raw ability, but McAdoo is a big-time project. Personally, I’d like to see him in action a bit tonight to get a feel for whether he’s a legitimate prospect who the Ravens would be wise to stash on the practice squad, or just a kid who is unlikely to make an impact at the NFL level.