Before I begin this morning, I'd like to say goodbye to a beloved member of the Orioles and MASN families, Mike Flanagan, who died yesterday at the age of 59.
I did not know Mike well, and I'll leave the eulogies to those who did, but I will say that I've often heard how incredibly kind, generous and quick-witted the former Cy Young award winner was. He was truly cared for around the Warehouse at Camden Yards, and will certainly be missed.
With the Ravens preparing to take on the Redskins tonight, here are five players to watch in the third, and most important, game of the preseason:
1. Joe Flacco, QB
Yes, it's just the preseason. Yes, these games don't really mean anything. But it sure would be nice to see Flacco and the Ravens' first-string offense hit some kind of a groove tonight after struggling the last two weeks. Flacco hasn't stunk up the joint through two preseason contests, but he hasn't looked all that sharp, either, going 15-of-30 for 184 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Working behind what's currently an unstable offensive line, it might be tough for Flacco to find much of a comfort zone in the pocket, but better numbers will obviously be needed come the regular season.
2. Domonique Foxworth, CB
After getting limited playing time throughout much of training camp and the preseason as he works back from ACL surgery, Foxworth has seen his reps increase in practice recently. That should carry over to tonight, as the veteran cornerback is expected to get his most extended dose of game action so far this preseason. How close is Foxworth to full strength? Does he have a chance of regaining his starting job, and doing so as early as the Sept. 11 regular season opener? Foxworth might go a long way toward answering those questions tonight.
3. LaQuan Williams, WR
Williams, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Maryland, has been one of the biggest surprises of camp, going from a nobody to a guy with a legitimate chance to stick around Ravens headquarters once final cuts are made. As of now, Williams has likely secured himself at least a spot on the eight-man practice squad by impressing coaches in practice and performing in games (he's made four catches for 84 yards in limited action), but he's got a shot to crack the 53-man roster as a sixth wide receiver and special teams ace. Williams might not see a ton of playing time tonight, but he needs to make the most of every opportunity from here on out.
4. Tom Zbikowski, S
Bernard Pollard took an upper hand in the battle for the starting strong safety job over the last couple of weeks, and Zbikowski might be running out of time to punch back. (I'm pretty clever, aren't I?) Head coach John Harbaugh has said that the Ravens plan on building packages which will allow both Pollard and Zbikowski to see playing time this season, but one guy will obviously earn the bulk of the reps. Zbikowski has been the one running with the first-team defense this week, and he might be in line for the start tonight. Can he do enough to overtake Pollard?
5. Bryant McKinnie, OT
It is cheating if one of my "five guys to watch" is a guy who won't even play tonight? Sure hope not. McKinnie won't suit up against Washington after passing his physical yesterday, making his two-year contract with the Ravens official, but I'm still interested in seeing just how big McKinnie is at this point. I've written enough about the Ravens' new offensive tackle's physique, and I'm sure cameras will be all over him on the sideline. Has McKinnie dropped some of the excess poundage since getting cut by the Vikings earlier this month? We'll see.