Brian Billick Previews Preseason Opener


I am thrilled to be doing the Ravens preseason games on WBAL and getting to know the team better throughout the process. What I am most excited about is getting the chance to work with Gerry Sandusky, one of the best play-by-play guys in the business. Gerry and I, along with the talented Evan Washburn, are going to take a little different approach to our preseason coverage. We are going to look at it through the lens of a four-part mini-series. Each episode leading to the next, while building the story of the 2017 Baltimore Ravens.

In the classic three-act play, the first act is used to establish the main characters, their relationships and the world they live in. The act confronts those characters with an incident or circumstance they will need to resolve. In the second act, (or in our circumstance, preseason games No. 2 and 3), the main characters attempt to resolve their challenges but often times find themselves in worsening scenarios if they haven’t yet fully developed the appropriate skills to handle such situations. The third act, (the final preseason game), will feature the resolution of the story and further develop its subplots.

The characters, the plot, the strategies and the drama build with each game as we end in New Orleans on Aug. 31, with what is hoped to be the makings of a championship team going into the opener on Sept. 10 against AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals.

In our version of the three-act play, we can anticipate the drama the main characters will encounter. Questions about the running game, the quarterback position, the need to develop more explosiveness in the passing game and the ever-changing offensive line will all be discussed. Defensively, who can rush the passer opposite Terrell Suggs and who will win the starting cornerback position in what may be the deepest defensive backfield in all of football? These are the answers we expect to discover over the course of our four-part mini-series, but just like any good movie, there will be plot twists and unexpected challenges.

(The curtain rises slowly and the story begins)

Act 1: Thursday, Aug. 10 – Redskins at Ravens

As Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid said, “who are those guys?” The first preseason game is all about finding out who can apply what they have learned in all the OTAs and training camp practices and translate that into a performance in the opener. For the players trying to make a name for themselves and eventually a spot on this roster, they have one of two objectives: reaffirm the front office and the coaching staff’s high opinion of you, or force them to take another look after a performance that exceeded their expectations.

Like many teams, the starters, who will see limited action on Thursday, are pretty well established. Veteran Ravens like Marshall Yanda, Terrell Suggs, Brandon Williams and Jimmy Smith will see little if any action. Other veteran newcomers like Jeremy Maclin, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson will be introduced to the home crowd with just a handful or reps on the opening series.

Young veterans like Breshad Perriman, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Brent Urban, James Hurst, Terrance West and Lorenzo Taliaferro have shown flashes of potential and need to use this preseason to further the opportunity to show they can be stars in this league. (However, I am always reminded of the old coaching adage, “Son, your potential is going to get me fired.”)

While all this plays out in the first act, here are a couple of key areas our broadcast will be giving particular focus to:

  • Noticeably absent from my comments thus far have been anything to do with the quarterback position, the omni-present issue facing every team in this “quarterback-driven” league. With or without the injury to Joe Flacco’s back, and what the long-term prognosis is, Act 1 is all about Ryan Mallett. Can he weather the storm and keep the organization’s faith in him? One of the hardest things to do is to evaluate a quarterback separate from what is going on around him. Preseason games can tend to look chaotic.  Mallett, though the starter, will likely play well after the starting offensive line and receivers exit the game. This is where it will get interesting. Everyone will need to just calm down and try and evaluate Mallett on his play and not the juggling that is likely to ensue around him.
  • The next area of interest to me is the offensive line. Obviously, the Ravens would like to see growth in James Hurst as the starting right tackle and how Ryan Jensen steps into the start center role. Both will likely play beyond the typical starters’ role of a series or two. Having said that, Stephane Nembot and De’Ondre Wesley need all the snaps the Ravens can get to see if indeed they can be that third swing type player that is so important on the active game day roster. We will get an idea if OT Austin Howard was brought in to just give them depth at tackle, or whether there are concerns about Hurst being the full-time guy.  
  • With the loss of Nico Siragusa to a knee injury, I will also be focusing on Jermaine Eluemunor and Matt Skura to see if they two can solidify the interior. To use an Eric DeCosta phrase, “All of these players are not only competing against each other but also against ‘the field.’” Meaning, they will also be judged against other linemen in the league who will be getting cut, or might be available through a trade.
  • At the running back position, we will likely see little or none of Danny Woodhead. He brings a unique skill set to operate out of the backfield with what I call “EX-O’s” (extended hand-offs) that will show up in the stats as catches, but will be used to attack the defense similar to an outside running play. Part of the new Ravens’ rushing attack will be these “EX-O’s.” I will be watching to see if players like Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell or Bobby Rainey will be used in the same fashion to flush out this type of play in Marty Mornhinweg and Greg Roman’s “West Coast” roots.
  • First-round pick Marlon Humphrey will obviously be a main character throughout the duration of the preseason, but we may have to wait for our introduction as he is currently listed as day-to-day and not practicing. It has been hard for the coaches and front office to hide their excitement about Humphrey and what he may bring to a position that has been a concern the last few years. Injuries to Tavon Young and Maurice Canady were a blow to this position, and if Humphrey is out this week, that will give another player a prime spotlight to prove his value to the depth of a position that got a lot stronger in the offseason.
  • Finally, the Ravens need a returner and the preseason is typically where you will find the possible diamond in the rough. There are a couple of players under the radar right now at a given position, but could burst on the scene like a BJ Sams did for us in 2004.  Sams was an undrafted free agent that was a late addition to the roster after the draft, and all he did was end up with 55 punt returns for 575 yards and 2 TD’s, while adding 59 kickoff returns averaging better than 21 yards a return.

At the conclusion of Act 1 we may not have all the characters established that will play a role in our four-part mini-series, but we will at least know who the principals are and where else we may have to look.

We think you, the fans, are going to enjoy this new way to televise preseason games.

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