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Preview: Ravens @ Patriots

The first preseason game is here.  The festivities begin at 7:30 tonight on WCVB and many of us will be watching.  As I've written before, this is not about winning, but about evaluating players in a game/pressure situation against another team.  Vets are looking to get a few reps, younger guys guaranteed a spot are looking to show why the team should have faith in them and guys on the bubble want to impress.  Thus begins the evaluation to get us to a 53 man roster.  JHR has done a most excellent job running down the O-line, so I won't even attempt to focus attention there.  Below are my random thoughts about some positions I'm interested in.

Quarterback - you will see very little of Brady, if at all.  The real shootout is between Cassel and Gutierrez.  Is Matt G. knocking on the door of Backup QB.  It's a tight race, so who knows.  A tie will go to Cassel unless Matt G can impress.  I think O'Connell will go to the practice squad as insurance for the end of Cassel's contract, up in 2008.

Cornerback - These guys have been impressive in TC, but they're playing against the backup QB's and such.  In addition, they've not seen much of Welker and Moss.  I'm interested in Wheatley and Wilhite and especially Bryant; many say Fernando will be the heir apparent to the spot vacated by Asante.  Hobbs is recently off the PUP, so don't expect to see him take many snaps.

Receiver - I think Moss will take a few throws as he's healthy, but Welker is recently off the PUP with a groan injury, so he won't be in.  "The Chad" is the one to watch, in my mind.  With so much pressure on him to step up to Stallworth's spot, I want to see something.  Recent acquisition Slater will be in as well as Washington and Aiken.

Linebacker - Mayo and Crable will see a lot of action.  Vrabel just came of the PUP and Bruschi doesn't need to show anything.  Victor Hobson is a new (to the Patriots) guy I want to see and I would like Adalius Thomas to get some reps.

Safety - I don't see Rodney taking any reps, but Brandon will be in a lot.  I'm itching to see if he slides into Cornerback or Nickel Back on some plays.  Tank Williams is another recent acquisition I'm interested in seeing.  Ventrone will be in and is fighting for a spot as he's on the bubble.  Matt Slater, ID'd as a WR, has lined up at safety in OTAs.

Running Back - Maroney, Morris and Faulk will all take reps, but not as many as Jordan; I'm really looking for big things from LaMont.  Evans will be in and Eckel is fighting for his life; Jordan can play FB and I believe Evans is a lock.

Those are my big position watches for tonight.  What are yours?