The preseason is a time for fans to focus on their own team. We're trying to figure out roster competition, and it does not matter whether you win or lose. That takes something away from the team vs. team competition of the game. Fortunately for the 49ers first preseason game, we get another Harbowl. Jim and John Harbaugh are not going to give a lot of way, but I have to think there are at least minor bragging rights on the line. Sure, it's not Super Bowl or regular season bragging rights, but for anybody that has a sibling, you know how the competition can be.
I took a few minutes to chat with Jason from Baltimore Beatdown. He answered some of my questions, HERE. Instead of focusing on 49ers vs. Ravens, we discussed some of the storylines for each team. Most importantly (at least for me), was figuring out who on each team we should be focusing on when the second half gets here and all the starters are out of the game. Thanks again to Jason.
Niners Nation: What kind of snaps can we expect from Ravens starters? Will any starters not play at all?
Baltimore Beatdown: It'll be the same as most years. They'll play one to two series and that's it. The only time the Ravens play their starters a decent amount of time is during the third preseason game. The only chance the starters play longer than expected would be if they came out flat and horrendous, and John Harbaugh forced them back out there. And I can't see that happening.
As far as veterans that won't play: Lardarius Webb is recovering from a nagging back injury and will miss the first two preseason games. Though not a starter, Terrence Cody (hip) is still on the PUP list so he won't play either. Daryl Smith (groin) only recently returned to practice so it'll be interesting to see what kind of playing time he gets.
NN: Is there any indication how the team has handled the Ray Rice situation on the field? We won't get into the other stuff, but just from a football perspective, what are you expecting from the team?
BB: As far as Rice, he's done his part to be in better football shape. He's down to 207 pounds, much lighter than he was in 2013, with the hopes of regaining the agility that made him an elusive weapon out of the backfield. So far, so good. The coaching staff is pleased with where Rice is at from a football standpoint.
As far as handling it, the Ravens have taken the approach that Rice made a mistake that was completely out of character. It seems to be the same line of thought from Roger Goodell because getting only two games for allegedly assaulting a woman isn't an appropriate punishment. But Rice should worry in those two games. If Bernard Pierce is able to post some good numbers against the Bengals and Steelers, Rice could be looking at a 50/50 split or worse when he returns.
NN: Is there a second year player the team is looking to emerge?
BB: Based on the kind of bizarre way the 2013 draft class went during the year, there are a few. The first name that pops out is fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who could wind up being used like an H-back, similar to the way James Casey was used under Gary Kubiak in Houston. He obviously won't put up insane numbers but he could become a key piece to Baltimore's offense this year.
The lone spot that's a concern on the offensive line is at right tackle, where second-year Wisconsin product Rick Wagner is slated to start. It's his job to lose at this point and he should be able to do enough to keep it through the preseason. The Ravens don't need him to be a Pro Bowl caliber player, just someone that can keep things steady on the right side of the line.
On the other side of the ball, expectations for nose tackle Brandon Williams are beginning to climb. Williams was injured early last year and didn't see much playing time when he was healthy. But as of now, he's considered the starting nose tackle, with Haloti Ngata moving to the three-technique position.
Other second-year players that fit this mold are safety Matt Elam, receiver Marlon Brown and inside linebacker Arthur Brown. Elam will be a starter, with the two Browns looking to play a sizable role in each player's positional rotation.
NN: How are the rookies coming along?
BB: Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley looks to be the real deal as he's likely an opening day starter. Physically, he doesn't look like a rookie and he's been able to pick up the defense since a lot of Baltimore's principles are also incorporated into Alabama's scheme. Mosley didn't get much love or hype on draft day when he was selected, but he could be this year's Kiko Alonso, a player that winds up surprising folks with a hard-nosed, fundamental and fast style of play.
Another player that's had a good training camp is second-rounder Timmy Jernigan. He won't start but he could be a rotational guy.
NN: Who are a couple deep roster guys 49ers fans should keep an eye on in the third and fourth quarter?
BB: I'll name three for you, that coincidentally happen to be in the same position group.
1) CB Tramain Jacobs: He's actually an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M that has flown under the radar. But reportedly, the Ravens are impressed with his instincts at the cornerback position. He'd also figure to be a special teams candidate as well.
2) CB Asa Jackson: Jackson is battling for the third cornerback spot with Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks, and has been impressive in the short time camp has been going on. Jackson is also Lardarius Webb's backup at left corner, which makes it easier for him to step in there in nickel packages. This allows Webb to move inside to cover the slot. A lot of fans seem to be on the Jackson bandwagon, so this game will be a good test for him.
3) FS Omar Brown: Brown has been a preseason MVP the past two years, only to find himself as a last-minute cut. He always seems to be around the ball, whether it's intercepting a pass or recovering a fumble -- which is one reason his teammates call him Baby Ed, in honor of Ed Reed. He's been a practice squad guy that has been called up to the 53-man roster for four games over the past two seasons. Maybe this is the year he makes the roster right after the preseason ends.