Brandon Williams is tired of lining up against his own teammates.
For the last three months, Williams and the rest of the rookie class have been hitting nobody but each other, and Thursday's preseason game against Tampa Bay will be the first time they get to see someone else in front of them.
"To hit someone else," Williams said when asked what he's most excited about this preseason. "That's the biggest thing – to get out on the field and show people what the Ravens are all about."
The next month of preseason games will be critical for the rookie class, as a few could end up being starters this season. Williams, linebacker Arthur Brown and safety Matt Elam will be counted on to play big roles on the defense this season, and they have to show during the preseason that they're up to NFL standards
"Now, they're going to go to an opposing stadium with a team that's really excited to play against us, and that will be the first taste of that, so it will be interesting to see how they respond," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
For the veterans currently on the roster, most of them have gone through plenty of games and practices, so the coaches have a good idea about what to expect from them. But for the rookies, the preseason is the first chance to see them in an actual game environment that can't be completely replicated in practice.
"I'm excited with this being my first professional game, so to speak, but I'm really just looking forward to putting it all together," Brown said. "We've been practicing out here, day-in and day-out, so I'm really just getting a chance to put it out there and display it in front of a crowd. I'm definitely looking forward to that."
Brown is in the middle of a tight competition at inside linebacker with Daryl Smith, Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes, and the rookie will likely see plenty of action throughout the contest. When veterans like Smith and McClellan come to the sidelines, the coaches will still be getting a good look at Brown on the field.
The same is likely true for the entire rookie class.
"You always want to make a statement," Brown said about his first preseason game. "You always want to prove something. You always want to present the best. So, I think not only myself, but this team, has a lot to prove and a lot to do."
Beyond the top three draft picks, the Ravens have a group of rookies fighting to stay on the roster beyond the next three weeks. There are currently 90 players on the roster, including 24 rookies, and they will dominate the reps in the third and fourth quarters.
Strong late-game performances in the preseason can go a long way in earning them a spot on the roster or the practice squad, just like it did last season for wide receiver* *Deonte Thompson, kicker Justin Tucker, safety Omar Brown and running back Bobby Rainey.
This year's rookie class has already started to prove itself on the practice field, and now they can see how they stack up against another roster of NFL talent.
"I think it'll help not only ourselves as players, but our coaches get a better understanding of where we are as a team and what we can provide as players for this team," Brown said. "I'm definitely looking forward to being out there and playing with the guys, and also really seeing where I'm at."