Baltimore Ravens: Five Players to Watch in Preseason Week 2 vs. Falcons

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | On Thursday night, the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens will host the Atlanta Falcons in what could be a possible prelude to this year's Super Bowl.

It is the Ravens' first home game of the 2013 preseason, and coming off a 44-16 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, there's plenty to follow regarding the defending champs.

With the team's recent signings and major injuries, lesser-known players must step up in Baltimore's second of four preseason games.

Here are five Ravens to watch:

Visanthe Shiancoe

One of the most disappointing performances in Week 1 of the preseason for the Ravens was that of newly signed tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. He dropped two easy passes, finishing the game with an underwhelming 40-percent drop rate.

He was signed to help ease the loss of Dennis Pitta, however, Shiancoe has done everything but that thus far. That led to the Ravens reaching out to Dallas Clark on Sunday, and Clark figures to make the team if healthy.

That puts Shiancoe's back against the wall, as rookie Matt Furstenburg has developed throughout camp and could push Shiancoe for a roster spot. Shiancoe will likely play with the first-team offense on Thursday night but if his drop issues continue, Clark could push for the starting job until Ed Dickson returns.

Brandon Stokley

One of the most anticipated performances of the game against Atlanta will be Brandon Stokley's, who is suiting up in a Ravens uniform for the first time since 2002. Playing in front of the home crowd in Baltimore for the first time in over a decade, all eyes will be on Stokley to see if he can provide a much-needed boost to a struggling group of wide receivers.

With Deonte Thompson ruled out with an ankle injury, Stokley has a prime opportunity to assert himself as a contender in the tight competition for a roster spot at wide receiver.

Tyrod Taylor

Perhaps the top offensive performer for the Ravens in Week 1 against Tampa Bay was backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He led the offense for the majority of the game and showed more poise than in previous years while completing 13 of 23 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

He also flashed his running ability and had few bad plays. While Taylor still wouldn't be able to lead the Ravens to the playoffs right now if Flacco were to suffer an injury, it's a promising sign that he has shown plenty of development heading into his third season in the NFL.

It'll be interesting to see if he can produce another successful second half against Atlanta.

Josh Bynes

One of the Ravens' key positional battles is at the weakside linebacker position, where veteran Josh Bynes and rookie Arthur Brown have had near-even reps so far during training camp as they battle for the starting job. In the first preseason game, Bynes was on the field primarily on first and second down, while Brown came in on third down and all nickel package situations.

That could be the Ravens' plan for the entire season, as Bynes doesn't provide much value in passing situations but is stout in run defense. However, if Brown can prove he is a three-down linebacker, Bynes could struggle for playing time, and he can't become content with his current situation.

Bynes must excel when he is on the field to prove to the coaching staff that he deserves to be on the field for at least run situations this season.

Matt Elam

One of the biggest disappointments so far during training camp for the Ravens has been rookie safety Matt Elam and his inability to claim the starting strong safety job.

The first-round pick took a backseat to veteran James Ihedigbo in the preseason opener, as Ihedigbo played with the first-team defense while Elam played with the second and even third team.

During the Ravens' open practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Elam still wasn't pushing Ihedigbo for the job, earning just a few first-team reps. Right now, it appears that the coaching staff has no plans to let Elam take the starting job because of where he was drafted without winning it, and without many first-team reps in practice, he must prove himself during the remaining preseason games, including Thursday night.

Kyle Casey is a sports writer living in Baltimore, Md. He maintains his own football site, End Zone Report, and is the editor of Cat Crave.

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