Preseason Games Underway
It is football time again in America as college football teams hit the field for their first practices and training camps are well underway for all 32 NFL squads. Training camp is the first time many fans get a glimpse at their favorite teams and can convince themselves that their team will hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. Every rookie looks like the next big superstar and every free agent signing is worth that big, new contract.
However, the best parts of training camps are the preseason games, when those battling for the last few roster spots get a chance to shine. Yes, the preseason is good to help the starters ramp up to game speed, but those starters rarely play more than a half, and the rest of the game is devoted to those final positional battles. It is in those moments that the surprises for each team are discovered, whether it’s a seventh-round pick who emerges as a gamechanger or the undrafted rookie who proves his worth on special teams with incredible effort.
Two teams with some interesting storylines entering the season are the Baltimore Ravens and the New Orleans Saints. These teams come into 2021 with very different questions, but both fully expect to be contending for the Super Bowl come January and February. Both have some players worth keeping an eye on Saturday when the two meet in Baltimore to open the preseason.
The Spirit of The Ravens
On the Ravens side, it should be fascinating to watch rookie receiver Tylan Wallace out of Oklahoma State. Wallace was a true gamechanger in Stillwater as a deep-play threat, and was a second-team All-American. He is very much in the mold of Ravens receiver Marquise Brown, but he will still need to battle for a spot in a loaded receiving corps. Baltimore made it a point to address the receiver position this offseason, but Wallace should have an early chance to impress with first-round pick Rashod Bateman sidelined with an injury.
Flipping sides of the ball, Odafe Oweh has a chance to make a large impact on the Ravens defense this season. He is locked in a battle with Tyus Bowser to be a starting outside linebacker, and Oweh’s quickness will be an asset as a pass rusher, but more importantly when stopping the run. The defense has always been a strength in Baltimore, and the Ravens’ linebackers are at the center of that success. Oweh is an excellent candidate to continue the long line of great Ravens linebackers, and Saturday is our first chance to seem him in real game action.
The Spirit of The Saints
Over on the other sideline, you can pick any receiver you want on the Saints, and that is the player you should pay attention to this weekend. Michael Thomas is out with an injury and running back Alvin Kamara is the Saints’ leading receiver last season. Without a true top receiver, the Saints are looking at the youngsters to step up, and it will be intriguing to see who will fill that void. Tre’Quan Smith is the obvious choice to be the focal point, but there are so many rookie, first- and second-year receivers who will have a real chance to make a tremendous impact this season.
Defensively, Pete Werner is the man drafted to help revitalize the Saints linebacking corps. New Orleans had an elite defense last season because it was excellent at the line of scrimmage and excellent in the secondary. Werner gives the Saints a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can help add in both run support and the pass rush in addition to being solid in coverage. Whereas Payton Jordan was drafted for his ability to get after the quarterback from the defensive line, Werner was a second-round pick to make the Saints defense more complete. How he performs in his first action within the scheme is crucial to seeing just how much New Orleans can improve defensively over an impressive year last season.