By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun
11:45 AM PDT, August 18, 2011
On a night when three former Ravens return to M&T Bank Stadium, the spotlight will fall on four new starters making their home debut for the team.
Wide receiver Lee Evans brings the promise of big plays. All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach and safety Bernard Pollard deliver the threat of big hits. And cornerback Jimmy Smith takes the field with the high expectations placed on all Ravens first-round picks.
In a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against the Kansas City Chiefs (0-1), it will be time to meet and greet the newest members who have provided the Ravens (0-1) with a jolt of speed, power and enthusiasm.
"It's going to be pure adrenaline," said Smith, the first cornerback taken by the Ravens in the first round in 12 years. "It's a first impression at home. I think it's going to be insane."
Most preseason games don't allow much time for starters to make a great first impression. The Ravens' offensive starters are expected to play into the second quarter, while the ones on defense could go for one quarter.
It will be hard for Evans to top his last appearance at M&T Bank Stadium. Nearly 10 months ago, Evans caught six passes for 105 yards and three touchdowns as a member of the Buffalo Bills.
"It's a different situation. I'm a Raven now," said Evans, who was traded for a fourth-round pick on Aug. 12. "You want to come in and do your best to fit in. You want to earn the respect of your teammates."
The first major free-agent addition to this year's Ravens team was Leach, who became the highest-paid fullback in the league after signing a three-year, $11 million contract.
He will play on the same field as Le'Ron McClain, a two-time Pro Bowl fullback for the Ravens who signed with the Chiefs. But offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is reminded of a different Ravens fullback when he looks at Leach.
"I don't like to make comparisons because it is hard to compare guys equally, but he reminds me of [former Ravens FB] Lorenzo [Neal] when Lorenzo was roughly that age," Cameron said.
Evans and Leach are the only veterans who are new starters to a Ravens offense that finished 22nd overall in the NFL and 16h in scoring.
"I think that is one thing that I can do a better job of, is adapting to a new guy quicker," Cameron said. "I think we're wanting to speed up the process to get these guys acclimated. ... I know I can do a better job. We, as a staff, are challenging ourselves to do a better job, and yes, we are going to tweak things to do what they do best and grow from there."
The only veteran from this year's free-agent class starting for the Ravens' defense is Pollard, who has 59 career starts with the Chiefs and Houston Texans.
The hard-hitting safety played with the second team in the preseason opener, but leapfrogged Tom Zbikowski on the depth chart after making two tackles and one interception last week.
"It's competition but at the same time, I didn't come here to sit," Pollard said. "That's one thing I told Ozzie. That's one thing that me and my agent talked about. That's something our team knows. This defense knows that I'm going to come out here and play my butt off for you. That's what they want. That's what I'm going to do."
Smith has been playing catch-up since the Ravens made him the 27th player drafted overall in April.
The NFL lockout eliminated all the offseason workouts that would've help acclimate Smith and all the rookies. Then, a groin injury sidelined him early in training camp.
After playing eight snaps as a defensive reserve in the preseason opener, Smith has worked as a first-team cornerback along with Cary Williams.
"Nothing really bothers Jimmy. He's a cool cucumber," Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "He's just learning everything. Again, he's not where he should be because of the set back, but now that we've got him out here we're kind of force-feeding him in there. And it'll be interesting. We're going to up his reps this game. I can't wait to see him play."
Among the new faces on the Ravens will be familiar ones on the Chiefs.
Friday night marks a reunion with three former Ravens — McClain, nose tackle Kelly Gregg and offensive tackle Jared Gaither — who landed in Kansas City. They combined to start 205 games for the Ravens.
"Those guys are all good players," coach John Harbaugh said. "They've all proven themselves, and they've been contributors here, and it'll be fun going up against those guys. Three guys that we just had here, and thought we had a chance — maybe to keep here as recently as two weeks [ago] — [and now] you're playing against them. So, that'll be kind of an odd thing."
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