Gail Burton / Associated Press
The secondary, which caused the Ravens so many problems in 2014, appears to be an altogether different unit through the beginning of training camp, bereft of the injuries and deficient pass coverage that was apparent early in last year’s camp.Cornerback Jimmy Smith is being paid like a top cornerback and expects to play like one. Fellow starter Lardarius Webb is joined by Kyle Arrington (pictured) and Rashaan Melvin, who are jostling to play opposite Smith, and the first-choice safety pairing of Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis might make last year’s rotation-by-necessity a distant memory.Last year in training camp, the secondary was frequently beaten over the top for long completions, with no safety help to be found. That continued into the season, crippling the defense.That’s not the case anymore. The safeties are much better in coverage and receivers aren’t getting a clean ride past the cornerbacks. Everyone seems to be closer to the ball, and there is a groupwide mandate for interceptions the Ravens tied a franchise-low with 11 last year.These starters might not play much in the first preseason game, but the improvements in the secondary will be noticeable when reserves like Melvin, Cassius Vaughn, Quinton Pointer and Tray Walker show off the depth at cornerback after the starters give way.
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Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun
He plays behind a quarterback — Flacco — who has not missed a game in his entire life, but backup quarterback Matt Schaub (pictured) could become a lightning rod starting with Thursday’s game. It’s important to note the context of his performance, though.Schaub could be playing behind a second-string offensive line featuring four or five players who have not played a regular season offensive snap, with left tackle James Hurst the only exception. Schaub has developed good chemistry with receivers Jeremy Butler and DeAndre Carter, but they’re young, too. Rookie tight ends Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle will be getting their first taste of NFL action.Schaub is in his 12th NFL season. There will be points on Thursday when the other 10 players on the field with him don’t have that much experience combined. Given his recent track record, Schaub might catch heat for a poor performance, even in preseason. Such a performance might not totally be on him.
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When the Ravens play the New Orleans Saints in the first game since last season’s playoff loss to the New England Patriots, they’ll do so a confident, healthy team with an impeccable core and plenty of potential.You’ll have to look quickly to see stars like quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. or outside linebacker Terrell Suggs Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium. They don’t traditionally play more than a series or two in the preseason opener.But there’s much more to watch as the Ravens finally return to the field, with the storylines that have emerged through training camp on display for fans for the first time Thursday.