The Most Important Scrimmage Ever

This Saturday, to further prove the NFL’s popularity rivals that of a $1,000 tax gift from the government, fans will pack FedEx field in Landover not for a playoff game, not for a regular season game, not for an exhibition game, instead for a scrimmage. They won’t even keep score, but the Ravens and Redskins will practice with and against each other for about two hours with probably 40,000 fannys in the seats. Next year they’ll likely broadcast live on the web Ray Lewis jogging on the treadmill getting 1,000 hits a minute.

It is cool though to put a scrimmage in the stadium. The rookies get better feel of the NFL atmosphere and the veterans are less likely to dog it on the big stage. As for this particular scrimmage, here are five things to look for on Saturday.

Number Five: Don’t put too much stock in what you see. Last year when these teams scrimmaged in Baltimore the Ravens looked far superior. Kyle Boller showed poise and accuracy spreading his passes perfectly to all his receivers. The Redskins meanwhile looked clueless. A complete inability to move the ball offensively and stupid mistakes on defense dominated their afternoon. How’d their seasons turn out? Anyone remember?

Number Four: Cohesiveness on the offensive line. Which group on the team struggled mightily throughout 2005, yet received very little upgrade? Yes a once dominant offensive line, through injury and poor play, regressed like Mel Gibson’s popularity. The only significant addition to the group comes from 2nd round draft pick Chris Chester. He though played half his college career at tight end. Expecting much from Chester sets you up for disappointment. That’s not to knock the lanky center-slash-guard, he owns plenty of potential, just needs a year or two to bulk up and learn. The optimism though for the o-line comes from its collective health and desire to prove the ’05 was a fluke. I talked with right tackle Tony Pashos and even though the year was a boon for him personally, going from little known backup to productive team member, he freely admitted they stunk last year as a whole. And remedying that reality is job one in training camp.

Number Three: Does the burst remain? This will be tough to tell. We’ll only see a glimpse of Ray Lewis but the scrimmage offers our first view of number 52, in competition against another team, since October 23, 2005. That day Lewis injured his hamstring, ultimately leading to surgery and an off-season of discontent. In training camp so far, Ray looks every bit like his All-Pro self. He’s happy, healthy and ready to lead the Ravens once again. But in taking baby steps towards the season, when real answers will be learned, Saturday gives us a little look when he’s trying to tackle the likes of Clinton Portis.

Number Two: McNair’s Fancy. Can’t wait to see who Steve McNair takes a liking to. Will he pick right back up with Derrick Mason? Will he make a living with Todd Heap? Will he find one of the youngsters like Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, or Devard Darling a better target? Not likely, in fact I bet $100 of Steve Davis’ Johnsonville Brats money that McNair first completion as a Raven goes to Mason. He has to do it simply out of respect.

Number One: Say Thanks. Be thankful that as you pull into FedEx Field, forking over $25 to park (The Ravens last year charged nothing for parking, $12 for adult tickets, $7 for kids, portions of which went to charity), and piling into a stadium that has room for 75,000 fans yet 90,000 seats because the billionaire owner wants to squeeze every last bit of dignity along with every last dime out your pocket. Well, you know for what to be thankful.

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