Inside the Baltimore Ravens

FIVE SITUATIONS TO WATCH: A look at the Baltimore Ravens heading into Thursday night's preseason opener against the New England Patriots.

1. How will the quarterbacks fare?

Kyle Boller was granted the first start due to his superior experience and tenure, but the inconsistent former first-round draft pick will need a strong performance to ultimately beat out Troy Smith and, to a lesser extent, rookie Joe Flacco in the quarterback competition. The keys for Boller are avoiding turnovers, not overreacting to heavy pressure from the Patriots' formidable front seven and not staring down his primary read. When Smith gets in the game late in the first half or after halftime, he'll need to display his mobility, arm strength and improved accuracy while managing the game. For Flacco, it's a case of trying to overcome the traditional anxiousness every rookie experiences, even towering first-round picks with powerful arm strength.

2. Can a threadbare offensive line hold it together?

Starting offensive tackles Jared Gaither and Adam Terry are out with sprained ankles, and journeyman Chad Slaughter and former practice-squad lineman Mike Kracalik will start at left and right tackle. Because of the injury situation, the starters will likely see extended snap for a heavy workload. Pass protection might be an issue, so expect chip-blocking assistance. Baltimore is solid up the middle with center Jason Brown and guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda, but offensive line coach John Matsko has a major depth issue at tackle. Behind Slaughter and Kracalik, the Ravens will go with third-round pick Oniel Cousins, former college basketball star Joe Reitz in his first football game since high school, and undrafted free agent Isaiah Wiggins.

3. Is Ray Rice ready for the NFL? The rookie running back is starting in place of Willis McGahee, and will look to duplicate an electrifying set of practices on a much bigger stage. Rice has dodged and bounced off tacklers, making defenders miss in the open field. Now, he'll try to prove himself against the likes of Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison. The Ravens' coaching staff has been thrilled with the diminutive former Rutgers' star. 4. How will several young defenders perform?

Since Ed Reed is out with a shoulder injury, Jim Leonhard and rookies Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski will rotate snaps alongside strong safety Dawan Landry. Nakamura has been the surprise of training camp. With cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister sidelined, Fabian Washington, if his sore leg cooperates, Corey Ivy and Frank Walker will take their turns with the first-string defense. It will be interesting to watch David Pittman and Ronnie Prude as they try to gain ground on Derrick Martin in a chase for a roster spot. At outside linebacker, Antwan Barnes and Edgar Jones are competing at Terrell Suggs' spot. Rookie inside linebacker Tavares Gooden has drawn high marks and could see a ton of playing time if Bart Scott's leg is still bothering him.

5. Which wide receiver will step forward in Demetrius Williams' absence?

With Williams sidelined with a left Achilles' tendon injury, it's a prime opportunity for youngsters Marcus Smith, Yamon Figurs and Justin Harper at the third receiver spot. If Mark Clayton's shoulder remains problematic, this audition becomes even more critical. Smith has had a strong camp, and Figurs has rare speed.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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