It’s imperative for the Baltimore Ravens to get off to a quick start to the regular season.
The team has missed the playoffs for the past two years and John Harbaugh will need to set an early tone to establish some confidence among his players and the fanbase.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that building some momentum could be a challenge. Several key players are still not back at practice, raising more concerns about whether they will be ready by Sept. 10.
The biggest absence is quarterback Joe Flacco, who has been out the entire camp with a back injury. The Ravens have insisted that Flacco will be ready by the time team kicks off the season at Paul Brown Stadium.
However, how much will the missed practice time affect his performance?
The Ravens’ coaches have put on a brave front, saying the veteran quarterback does not need much time to prepare. Flacco, however, struggled in 2016, one year removed from season-ending knee surgery. Now, he will likely be dealing with questions about his back for the foreseeable future.
Baltimore offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg said that Flacco has become more involved with the offense over the past week. However, attending meetings is much different than taking live snaps.
“He’s in all of our team meetings, offensive meetings, as well as the group and quarterback meetings – all of the meetings with very few exceptions,” Mornhinweg said. “He is on it. The day before yesterday, we went through a little scenario, and he’s on it that way. Now, you know, I’m twitching to get him on the field here one of these days, and we’ll have a nice little plan for him there.”
Another key player missing from practice is Ronnie Stanley. The starting left tackle has not practiced since Aug. 12. He is expected to help anchor an offensive line already decimated with injuries and still adjusting to the unexpected retirement of John Urschel.
Once again, the Ravens have downplayed the significance of Stanley’s injury. However, if he can’t play in the opener, the Bengals might be spending most of the game in Baltimore’s backfield.
“No season-ending thing or anything like that,” Harbaugh said about Stanley’s injury. “It is just part of the … It is just something he is working through. There are two or three guys like that, who are working through some things. I would like to get them back sooner rather than later, but we don’t want to push them too much and just let them heal up a little bit. I would say it is camp stuff right now. I haven’t received anything definitive on Ronnie from the trainers, so when we do, we will let you know, as far as when he is coming back.”
Perhaps even more frustrating is Breshad Perriman, who has been out since Aug. 1 with a hamstring injury. Harbaugh also said that Perriman’s injury is “not season ending,” so there is some hope he could be back by the regular season opener.
Still, Perriman missed his entire rookie campaign in 2015 when he injured his knee on the first day of training camp. He was expected to be the downfield threat the Ravens sorely lacked. Perriman bounced back last season, but there appears to be some overriding concerns about whether he can stay on the field.
Running back Danny Woodhead is also dealing with a hamstring injury, and as a result, he might be out the rest of the preseason. Woodhead, whose specialty is catching the ball out of the backfield, injured his leg in the second preseason game against Miami.
“He had some things in the game, got banged up a little bit,” Harbaugh said. “So, [we’re] kind of holding him back right now.”
Finally, Michael Campanaro did not practice Thursday and could be scratched for the third preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. He has been hampered with injuries throughout his three-year career. Last season, Campanaro was released from injured reserve before being resigned. However, he has missed only one practice since being activated off PUP early in training camp.
This creates an opportunity for Keenan Reynolds to show what he can do as the primary returner Saturday against Buffalo. Reynolds has been a bright spot in a training camp that has been otherwise covered by dark clouds.