Quarterback Joe Flacco’s recent back injury was mostly met with a shrug by his teammates and coaches at the Baltimore Ravens’ first full practice of training camp on July 27.
The 10-year veteran is expected to be back in a week, so no one appeared overly concerned. In the meantime, the offense simply plans to go about its business with backup quarterbacks Ryan Mallett and Dustin Vaughan.
The new-look Ravens fully appear to be a work in progress, but they are not short on confidence.
Coach John Harbaugh added some intrigue to the day when he confirmed the Ravens might be interested in signing quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a polarizing figure who made international headlines when he refused to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner before games. That revelation should send local talk radio and message boards into a frenzy over the next couple of days.
“He and I have been talking throughout the summer a number of times, and we have had some great conversations on the phone,” Harbaugh said. “It has really been a pleasure to talk to him and get to know him. I like history and politics, so we have had some debates. It has been fun.
“He is a great guy, and he is a guy right now that is being talked about, and we will see what happens with that. I think that will all be speculation right now, but I think he is a really good football player, and as I said at the owners’ meeting [this past spring], I do believe he will be playing in the National Football League this year.”
While Baltimore did suffer several debilitating injuries in the offseason, most notably to Dennis Pitta, Tavon Young and Kenneth Dixon, the team might have just enough depth to end a two-year playoff drought.
The Ravens bolstered their secondary by signing cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson. Baltimore also drafted cornerback Marlon Humphrey with the 16th overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft from Alabama.
Jefferson was limited in the opening practice after undergoing sports hernia surgery about five weeks ago. However, Humphrey showed he is a true playmaker and kept pace with speedy receiver Breshad Perriman when they went one-on-one in team drills.
Linebacker Kamalei Correa, a second player from Boise State, also showed a nose for the ball and he had an interception against Vaughan. Correa is looking to crack the starting lineup and boosted his stock with a strong first day.
The loss of Young to a season-ending knee injury was expected to be a serious blow to the secondary. However, the Ravens added Brandon Boykin, Otha Foster and Al-Hajj Shabazz for depth. Maurice Canady, a second-year player from Virginia, has been impressive throughout the OTAs and he is making a push to get the start in the slot.
On offense, the Ravens added several players that appear poised to make a big impact. Running back Danny Woodhead, who was signed as a free agent, has shown explosiveness throughout the offseason workouts. He should provide another viable weapon for Flacco with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Terrance West is looking to build on last season when he ran for 774 yards and five touchdowns on 193 carries. Nonetheless, there is still some uncertainty surrounding the running game. The loss of Dixon is the most concerning because he showed flashes of big-time playmaking ability last season.
Dixon overcame a knee injury in training camp and finished with 382 yards on 77 carries with two touchdowns. He also had 30 receptions for 162 yards with a score. The players behind West and Woodhead are mostly unproven and this could provide a challenge for Greg Roman, the offensive assistant/tight ends coach who was hired to help fix the ground attack.
The Ravens finished 28th in the NFL last season with 1,484 yards. However, the running backs were effective with limited opportunities, as Baltimore was ranked 30th with 367 rushing attempts. The rushing attack will have to improve this season for a strong playoff push.
On a bright side, all four of the Ravens’ top tight ends — Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle — practiced Thursday. Boyle was the most impressive with several sure-handed catches in traffic, while Williams also looked solid with a couple of nifty receptions. Watson did not show any ill-effects from a torn Achilles that ended his 2016 season in training camp.
“Tight ends are all healthy – you saw that,” Harbaugh said. “Ben Watson is out there practicing; we have all those guys healthy. I am not ruling out another tight end to give us another set of legs, but those guys all looked good today.”
The key for the Ravens will be keeping them healthy tomorrow.