Normally, the morning of each of the Ravens' preseason games, I list five players to watch in that night's contest.
Today, with the preseason nearing its finale and final cuts looming, I thought I would switch it up and list five position battles which still could be determined tonight.
Here are the positions - and guys on the bubble at those positions - that I'll be watching closely when the Ravens take on the Rams later today:
Wide receiver: Even before Donte' Stallworth broke his foot, the opportunity was there for either Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith, or David Reed to make the 53-man roster. Now that Stallworth is out for two months, that opportunity has only increased. The Ravens will definitely keep one of these three, and there's a slight chance they decide to keep two.
All three players bring something different to the table. Williams is a big-play guy who can stretch the field, but he has injury and consistency issues; Smith is a special teams ace and a physical presence, but he has to prove he can continue to perform on offense; and Reed is a sure-handed, speedy rookie with lots of potential, but he failed to hit his stride once the pads came on in camp.
Williams is questionable for the Rams game with a sprained ankle, but he needs to find a way to get on the field. The final decision could come down to how these guys perform tonight.
Kicker: The Ravens said at the beginning of training camp that they expected the kicking battle between Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham to go down to the wire, and it certainly has. Both guys have kicked well, and this decision could be a very difficult one for the Ravens' coaches and front office personnel to make.
Cundiff has gone a perfect 3-for-3 on his preseason field goal attempts (connecting from 42, 26 and 25), while Graham has gone 2-of-3 (hitting from 32 and 24 but missing from 50). Cundiff also seemed to have the edge in field goal accuracy during camp, and he has slightly outperformed Graham on kickoffs, but Graham's experience and track record make him an attractive option. This will be a crucial game for both these guys.
Defensive tackle: This has been a highly competitive position battle since Day One, but now that Terrence Cody is considered questionable for the regular season opener after undergoing knee surgery, the Ravens will give a good, hard look to guys like Brandon McKinney, Kelley Talavou, Lamar Divens and Arthur Jones tonight.
In my opinion, McKinney and Talavou have secured roster spots, but the Ravens will have a tough decision to make if Divens and Jones, their rookie fifth-rounder, are left battling for one spot. Divens has the experience and he had a nice camp, but Jones has high upside and is a quick study.
Quarterback: The focus will squarely be on Troy Smith tonight. Simply put, Smith needs to convince the coaches that he's worth keeping around as a third-string quarterback despite the fact that the Ravens have two reliable options ahead of him on the depth chart. The fourth-year signal-caller will likely play all four quarters against the Rams, so he has a chance to make one last case for himself.
Offensive tackle: Ever since Jared Gaither showed up to training camp underweight and then started having issues with his back, this position has been in flux. Oniel Cousins has dealt with a throat issue and a concussion, Tony Moll came back from a concussion and has been somewhat hit-or-miss, and rookie Ramon Harewood has shown flashes of promise at some times, then looked to be overmatched at others.
Michael Oher is the constant, and the left tackle is unlikely to play tonight. That means the reps tonight will be left to Cousins (who is unofficially listed as questionable with post-concussion symptoms), Moll, Harweood and Joe Reitz/Stefan Rodgers. Can these guys step up and show they can handle the job, or will GM Ozzie Newsome be left skimming through the post-cut waiver wire for another option?