We're just hours away from the first real NFL action in quite some time.
That is, if you call the first week of the preseason "real action".
There's a good chance that tonight's Ravens-Eagles game will be one of the sloppiest games you've seen. Players have had very minimal practice time since the end of the 2010 season, veterans won't play much tonight, and with training camp rosters being increased to 90 under the new collective bargaining agreement, we'll see plenty of rookies running around tonight with their heads spinning.
Expect fumbles, blown coverages, dropped passes, and lots of camera shots of coaches shaking their heads in frustration.
As the Ravens prepare to take on the recently-dubbed "Dream Team" and their seemingly limitless salary cap (where is all the Eagles' money coming from?) here are five players who I'll be watching tonight. I suggest you do the same.
1. Sergio Kindle, LB
You think this guy will be geared up? Kindle will strap on the pads tonight and take part in his first game since fracturing his skull over a year ago. Reporters have seen Kindle in practice the last couple weeks, and he's looked OK; the 2010 second-round pick has shown decent pass rush skills and the effort is certainly there, but he still has plenty of room to grow. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said that Kindle will get playing time in sub packages and pass rush situations tonight, and it will be interesting to see how close he is to the player the Ravens thought they were getting when they made him their top draft pick last season.
2. Jah Reid, RT
Reid, the Ravens' third-round pick this year, might be the most impressive rookie thus far in camp. He's a huge, huge man (6-foot-7, 335-lbs.), and has seemingly acclimated well to a new level of play after getting his college experience at Central Florida. Reid is in a battle with Oniel Cousins for the Ravens' starting right tackle job, and while he's looked sharp in camp, the thought of having a rookie line up at right tackle Week 1 against the Steelers is a little frightening. If Reid can carry his strong practice play into tonight's game, he might be on his way to earning that spot on the Ravens' first-team offense and lessening my fear of him playing against Pittsburgh.
3. Dennis Pitta, TE
With Todd Heap enjoying the Arizona sun and Ed Dickson out for tonight's game because of a hamstring injury, Pitta has a chance to make a statement tonight. Dickson, a third-round pick last year, is the favorite to land the Ravens' starting tight end job because he presents more of a threat in the passing game, but Pitta - selected a round behind Dickson - might be closing in on his fellow 2010 draftee. The BYU product has been getting all the first-team reps the last handful of days with Dickson out, and he should get plenty of playing time tonight, as well.
4. Bernard Pollard, S
We know Pollard loves to hit. We know Pollard loves to dance. Now, we'll get to see him do all that in a Ravens jersey. Pollard, signed a week and a half ago, gives the Ravens depth at the strong safety spot, but with Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura on board, it's unclear where Pollard fits into the mix. It will be interesting to see the safety rotation the coaching staff goes with tonight, specifically how Pollard, who has started all but one game he's appeared in the last four seasons, is utilized.
5. LaQuan Williams, WR
Yes, all eyes when it comes to the wide receivers will be on rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss, who are being counted on to contribute a lot this season. But another young receiver to watch is Williams, an undrafted free agent out of Maryland, who has looked sharp this camp. Williams has shown good hands in practice, and has made a few highlight-reel plays on the offensive side of the ball, and as a strong special teams player, he's got a shot to work in on Jerry Rosburg's teams units as well. Talking to Williams earlier this week, it's clear he's geared up for his first NFL action, and if he can keep his emotions in check and deliver a solid performance, he could catch the coaches' eyes.