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5 Things To Watch vs. 49ers


The preseason matchup Thursday night between the Ravens and 49ers may lack the luster of their Super Bowl XLVII meeting, but there is still plenty on the line for the Harbaugh-coached teams.

The Ravens have made significant changes since last season, and the preseason opener will be the first opportunity to see the new pieces in live action.

Several players on both teams will take the field at M&T Bank Stadium with something to prove, and here are five things to watch in the game:

First impressions of new offense

The new offense that Gary Kubiak has installed over the last few months has received high praise throughout training camp, but those improvements will be tested in an actual game against one of the NFL's best defenses. Quarterback Joe Flacco and the first-team offense will get a limited number of reps – likely only a quarter or less – but all eyes will be on the unit to see how it looks in its first game action. The Ravens likely won't reveal too much for their AFC North opponents to dissect on film before the regular season.

How does the re-built offensive line perform?

The overall offense has been a big storyline of the offseason, and a significant part of the re-building is the development of the offensive line. The Ravens have two new starters up front – center Jeremy Zuttah and right tackle Rick Wagner – and the group wants to make last season's struggles a distant memory. The unit looks much improved, and Kubiak's clear direction in his zone-blocking system is a part of the reason. Also, left tackle Eugene Monroe is cemented at left tackle and guard Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda are both healthy. Having Osemele in the lineup after last year's nagging back injury has made a difference, and Yanda might just be the team's best overall player. The line will get a tough test against a talented 49ers defensive front.

Does the secondary hold up?

The secondary has been the biggest point of concern during training camp, as starter Lardarius Webb has been sidelined with a back injury and veteran corner Aaron Ross was lost to a torn Achilles. The Ravens don't have much depth at the position, and the competition between corners Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson has been one of the more high-profile battles of training camp. Brown and Jackson are competing for the No. 3 cornerback spot – and possibly a starting job if Webb's injury lingers – and a [add] match up against a potent 49ers passing attack is a chance for one to separate. The Ravens also have a stable of undrafted rookie corners fighting for roster spots, and this will be a critical opportunity for them.

Rookies in primetime

The veterans may only play a few series, and that means the rookies will get plenty of reps. Preseason games are dominated by young players trying to earn playing time and roster spots, and the Ravens have several young rookies who will be looking to strut their stuff at M&T Bank Stadium. First-round linebacker C.J. Mosley said he's treating the game like it's the regular season and he expects to see a lot of time. Other high picks like safety Terrence Brooks, defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro are also expected to take on a heavy workload, and the game will serve as a measuring stick for where they are at this point.

Steve Smith's Debut

The arrival of the veteran wide receiver this offseason has provided a spark to the offense in practice, and he's been one of the team's most impressive players in training camp. Most 14-year veterans don't get too pumped for preseason games, but Smith will want to make a strong debut in front of Baltimore fans. He practices hard even when the Ravens are in shorts and shells, so he'll certainly bring that passion and intensity to his first preseason game.

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