Baltimore Ravens' battle plans

OWINGS MILLS -- What will tonight's game against the Minnesota Vikings mean for the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback competition?

Troy Smith has a prime opportunity to stake his claim to the job as he gets the starting nod. If he struggles, then Kyle Boller can improve his candidacy with an error-free outing after committing two turnovers against the New England Patriots. Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is looking to avoid the growing pains that marked his NFL debut against New England.

2. How will rookie wide receiver Marcus Smith perform?

With veteran Derrick Mason questionable with a knee injury and Demetrius Williams still on the physically unable to perform list, Smith has a chance to show what he can do. The fourth-round pick was one of the Ravens' top rookies at training camp with his blend of size, hands, toughness and route-running ability.

3. Who will emerge as the top free safety with Ed Reed sidelined?

Veteran Jim Leonhard has the experience, but lacks size. Haruki Nakamura has the necessary instincts and quickness. And Tom Zbikowski is the biggest and most physical candidate as a potential enforcer in the box.

4. Will the offensive tackles hold up against the Vikings' pass rush?

Chad Slaughter and Mike Kracalik are starting in place of injured starters Jared Gaither and Adam Terry and will need a supreme effort to keep blue-chip defensive linemen Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams from repeating hitting the quarterback. They could be overmatched.

5. Will the Ravens' lack of depth at tight end be a problem?

With Todd Heap and Daniel Wilcox out, it's a big opportunity for newcomers Adam Bergen and Keith Heinrich as they make their bids for a roster spot. Bergen has impressed the coaching staff. Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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