COMMENTARY | On Thursday night, NFL football will finally be in full swing with the first slate of preseason games taking place.
One of those games will be held in Tampa Bay, as the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens head down south to take on the up-and-coming Buccaneers.
This is the first game for the Ravens since they defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII and anticipation is at an all-time high.
The training-camp battles in Baltimore have been nothing short of exciting thus far, and Thursday's game will be a good measuring stick for who the leaders are in each battle.
Here are five Ravens players to keep an eye on against Tampa Bay:
After entering training camp with high expectations, second-year wide receiver Tommy Streeter has struggled to make any noise in the competition for playing time at wide receiver. His immense potential has yet to come together, and if it doesn't before the end of the preseason, Streeter could be on the outside looking in when the final 53-man roster is announced. Streeter will get the opportunity to shine in the second half, and he must do so in order to gain some ground on his counterparts.
No player on the Ravens has a better opportunity to gain recognition on Thursday than tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. After being signed shortly after Dennis Pitta's season-ending hip injury, Shiancoe has quickly asserted himself as a legitimate contender for the second tight end job behind Ed Dickson. With Dickson out Thursday night with a hamstring injury, Shiancoe figures to have plenty of playing time.
Prior to training camp, it appeared as if newly acquired center A.Q. Shipley would give second-year center Gino Gradkowski a legitimate run for the starting center job. So far, it has been Gradkowski's job, and that doesn't figure to change anytime soon. However, it's only the beginning of August and if Shipley excels against the second-stringers, the Ravens could use him for a series or two with the first-stringers in future preseason games.
While Streeter is struggling to earn any playing time in the regular season at wide receiver, Deonte Thompson figures to see no shortage of time on the field. He is right in the thick of things for the starting wide receiver job opposite Torrey Smith, and his efficiency in the intermediate passing game could lead to him being used in the slot frequently this season. He figures to get plenty of first-team reps on Thursday, and he could close the gap on Jacoby Jones.
One of the most notable newcomers on the Ravens is first-round pick Matt Elam. The safety out of Florida figures to be a long-term starter at strong safety, but he won't be handed that job this season. He is currently listed behind James Ihedigbo on the depth chart, although, if he can show that he can help lead the backend of the defense, he may quickly take the inevitable role as the starting strong safety.
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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- Visanthe Shiancoe
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