Training camp over, the Ravens travel to FedEx Field in Landover on Saturday night to play the Redskins in their second preseason game. In their preseason opener last week, there were many positives as the Ravens beat the Panthers, 17-12. We'll see if they can build on that against their supposed Beltway rivals.
Here are the five main things I will be focusing on from
the press box my sofa in Hampden:
1. The mixed-up offensive line: As I wrote in Tuesday's column, I saw the offensive line as one of the Ravens' biggest strengths entering training camp, but injuries have prevented the unit from developing any lasting chemistry. The Ravens allowed six sacks against the Panthers, two of which came against Joe Flacco and the first-team offense.
We know right tackle Jared Gaither is out against the Redskins. The statuses of his replacement, Oniel Cousins, and center Matt Birk are unclear. Tony Moll and Chris Chester, respectively, would take their spots with the starters if they do not dress. With those key pieces out, the linemen still standing must get in sync to ensure that one of their quarterbacks doesn't get killed in preseason play. I'll be watching to see if the Ravens offensive line can make positives strides -- and lower the panic level -- against a respectable Redskins pass rush.
2. Fabian Washington's left knee: The Ravens cornerback was slowly working off the rust in training camp, and he looked more comfortable on his surgically-repaired knee as camp progressed. Washington, who will start against the Redskins, claims he's faster than he's ever been before, and though that is probably wishful thinking at this point, he still has the speed to cover receivers deep.
The Ravens held him out against the Panthers as a precautionary measure, so I'll be curious to see how Washington responds to game action Saturday. In particular, I want to see how his knee holds up making quick cuts and changing directions on the FedEx Field grass, and if he shies away from contact.
3. The sack-happy front seven: The pass rush was one of the Ravens' biggest question marks when they showed up in Westminster, and it was a major point of emphasis for coach John Harbaugh. All that hard work paid off against the Panthers as six Ravens combined for seven sacks.
What impressed me most was that four of them came from the Ravens' defensive line, including 1.5 each from Kelly Talavou and Paul Kruger. If the Ravens can generate pressure from the interior this season, it will make life easier for Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson and Co. Can they put forth a similar effort against the rebuilt Redskins offensive line?
4. The inside 'backer battle: Jameel McClain earned the right to start alongside Ray Lewis against the Panthers, but he put forth a pretty pedestrian effort. Tavares Gooden was playing with the first-team defense in practice earlier in the week. But a neck injury sidelined him Wednesday, opening the door for Dannell Ellerbe to practice with the ones.
Each of these guys bring something unique to the table. McClain is a solid all-around player who can rush the passer a little. Gooden is a plus player in coverage. Ellerbe is a tenacious tackler. That's why all three will play roles this season (assuming one isn't traded in a deal to acquire a cornerback). Still, it would be nice to see one of the young inside linebackers step up in the preseason and claim the starting spot as his own.
5. Donovan McNabb: I know McNabb doesn't wear purple, but the Eagles trading the veteran quarterback within the division to the Redskins was the juiciest story of the offseason. McNabb, who went 5-for-8 for 58 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo, should provide a nice little exhibition test for the Ravens secondary.