Preston: Quarterback Joe Flacco's continued absence from Ravens practice raises legitimate concerns

When will Joe Flacco begin to practice?

That's the No. 1 question from Baltimore sports fans about the Ravens. Because of a back injury suffered shortly before training camp opened in late July, the 10th-year NFL quarterback won't appear in a preseason game and has been spotted only occasionally drifting around the training facility like a ghost in a haunted house. Some days you see Joe; some days you don't.


With the number of injuries suffered by the team before the season has even started, Flacco's return has become the top priority.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley resumed practice Monday after several weeks off because of an undisclosed injury. That eased some concern.


But no one really cares about the playing status of other injured players, such as wide receiver Breshad Perriman and running back Danny Woodhead. The Ravens can win without them, but they can't win much without Flacco.

With him, they might be able to go .500 or slightly better. Without him, they'd be lucky to win six games, even if they played the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins or New York Jets twice. It's not that Flacco is great, but he is good enough to win consistently, and backup Ryan Mallett is bad enough to put the Ravens in dire straits.

That's why everyone in town keeps asking the same question: "When will quarterback Joe Flacco begin to practice?"

At age of 35, the second-oldest player on the team says his “body feels really good, especially right now.”

Questions about Flacco's return are apparently a source of frustration for coach John Harbaugh. His anxiety is understandable. Harbaugh has been cautious when talking about injuries ever since he said Perriman would return in a couple of days after the opening of training camp in 2015 and the wideout missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Plus, Harbaugh is still on the hot seat. Forget the one-year contract extension he received Monday. The Ravens needed to calm him down a little and get him refocused. The team hasn't been to the playoffs in three of the past four years, and if the Ravens don't make it this season, he could still lose his job. Without Flacco, the hot seat becomes hotter.

After Saturday night's uneventful preseason win against the Buffalo Bills, Harbaugh would say only that Flacco would be ready for the season opener on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10.

It once seemed likely that the Ravens would keep six wide receivers, but not any longer.

And that scares me. I thought Flacco would at least be practicing Monday, but then I saw him drifting around The Castle in shorts and with no sense of urgency. He won't be game-ready for the Bengals. He'll be in decent physical shape and familiar with the playbook and the game plan for Cincinnati, but he won't have his 'A' game.

Coaches can bring in game and play clocks and pipe in crowd noise, but it's impossible to duplicate game conditions, such as raw emotion, momentum swings and interactions with coaches on the sidelines under adverse conditions. The speed of the game is faster than at practice, which is one of the reasons preseason games are played. Flacco needs as much practice time as possible to get into a rhythm with his receivers and a cadence with his line.

During his absence, there have been rumors about the severity of Flacco's injury. Flacco only added to these stories by not appearing on the sideline with his teammates in preseason games. Was he not showing because he couldn't stand long enough? Why wasn't he on the field helping Mallett and young quarterback Josh Woodrum? These are legitimate questions, especially about a player whose communication skills with his teammates on the sideline have been a concern.

The Super Bowl-winning head coach is preparing for his 10th season at the helm.

Another public relations mistake was in how the team publicly considered Colin Kaepernick as a possible backup quarterback candidate. It was a mistake that festered for weeks. Team owner Steve Bisciotti invited fans to give their opinions. If you are the owner and leader, then make the call on Kaepernick instead of listening to fans.

It's not as if Kaepernick had been involved in a double murder or domestic abuse case. He kneeled during the national anthem of a game. The same fans who swore they wouldn't attend games if the Ravens signed Kaepernick would be the same ones who showed up if he won, and will be the same ones who disappear if the Ravens start losing this season. The Ravens could have squelched the story sooner but just let it go on and on.

Versatile veteran leaves the Raven thin on experience at both inside linebacker, special teams

So now they are at the point where Flacco needs to return soon. Harbaugh has given us comic relief when talking about the success of his offense and how Mallett has played “winning” football. Oh, spare us, please.The Ravens have a strong defense and one of the top two kickers in the game, which means they should be in most games. But they have no running game, no deep-intermediate-to-long-range passing attack and an injury-depleted offensive line.

And right now, they have no Flacco.

“We all know that when No. 5 is practicing and in the game it’s a different offense,” outside linebacker Terell Suggs said.

Agreed, but when is he going to practice?


Recommended on Baltimore Sun