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What to watch: Panthers at Ravens

Posted Aug 21, 2013

If you are going to execute a "trial run" – as Panthers head coach Ron Rivera called it – in your third preseason game, you may as well do it against the reigning Super Bowl champions.

"What better way to gauge your team than to go out and play the defending world champs?" linebacker Thomas Davis said.

The preseason schedule affords the Panthers that opportunity, as they'll travel to take on the Baltimore Ravens at 8 p.m. on Thursday night.

The starters will get their most extensive action of the preseason in this tune-up. How much of the playbook will open up for this contest?

"Enough," Rivera said. "I'll leave it at that."

NEW LOOK, SAME TOUGH TEST: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed – formerly the heart and soul of the Ravens defense – may be gone, but a formidable unit remains.

"They lost pretty much the middle of their defense in losing 52 and (Ed) Reed," Rivera said. "But you watch them and they are still flying around, still doing a lot of different things. Schematically, they look like they've thrown their whole playbook in. They are blitzing from everywhere, they're using all their combination coverages. This is going to be a great challenge for us."

The Panthers defense will be challenged as well. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and top target Torrey Smith will test the secondary vertically, and the Carolina front seven will be tasked with containing one of the league's premier running backs in Ray Rice.  

WAITING TO DEBUT: Linebacker Jon Beason (knee) returned to practice this week, but Rivera says he's still unsure if the starting weakside linebacker will play against the Ravens.

Wide receiver Domenik Hixon (hamstring), who practiced earlier in the week, has been ruled out. Hixon and Beason have yet to play in the preseason.

And with Hixon and Armanti Edwards (hamstring) unavailable, look for wide receiver David Gettis to get an extended opportunity to build on his five-catch, 82-yard performance a week ago in Philadelphia.

GREEN LIGHT FOR GINN: Running backs Armond Smith and Kenjon Barner and wide receivers Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams have served as the kick and punt returners so far in the preseason.

But wide receiver Ted Ginn, the player listed No. 1 on the depth chart for both roles, will finally get a chance to show off his return skills in a Panthers uniform on Thursday.

"We'll have most of our front line specialists out there on the kickoff return team," Rivera said. "(Ginn) will get a couple shots this week, and it'll be fun to see exactly where he is and how we mesh with him."

FIRST CUTDOWN LOOMS: The first round of cuts will occur by Tuesday when the 90-man roster must be trimmed to 75.

That means Thursday serves as a final chance for players fighting for a spot to make an impression before some tough decisions are made. Those players will have to make the most of a limited opportunity, with the first-teamers expected to play into the second half.

WHERE TO WATCH: Thursday's game will be broadcast on ESPN, but it also can be seen in the Charlotte television market only on WCCB-TV (CW-Channel 18).

The Charlotte TV market is comprised of the following counties in North Carolina: Alexander, Anson, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Richmond, Rowan, Stanly, Union and Watauga. In South Carolina, it's comprised of Chester, Chesterfield, Lancaster and York counties.