If Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is significantly concerned about how his back will hold up, not just in Sunday's regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals but in the 15 games that follow, he wasn't showing it Wednesday.
He also wasn't fretting about facing a team that he's struggled against more than any other just eight days after practicing for the first time this summer.
"It is not ideal, but I feel good now, and I'm ready to go," Flacco said in his first group interview since early in training camp.
After weeks of outside angst about the status of their offense and the health of their franchise quarterback, the Ravens continued their preparations for the Bengals with all their offensive players on the field. Flacco, running back Danny Woodhead and wide receiver Breshad Perriman returned to practice Saturday, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley came back early last week.
All are expected to play Sunday, although the lack of practice time between them has created the inevitable questions about how well the offense will play without a chance to build chemistry this summer.
If things continue on schedule, Flacco will have only four full practices and two walk-through practices ahead of Sunday's game. He took part in all the offensive and quarterback meetings while he was rehabilitating his back, but his opportunity to throw to this group of pass catchers, which includes newcomers Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin, has been limited.
"Like I said, it is not ideal," Flacco said. "But I've been doing this for a long time, and I'm going to make the most of it."
Ravens players and coaches said that the 10th-year quarterback looked good in his first couple of practices. Coach John Harbaugh said Flacco has been "sharp." Perriman said Flacco looks like "regular old Joe" and "he's still putting everything on the money." Wide receiver Mike Wallace said Flacco hasn't acted like he's missed any practice time at all.
"He looks the same," Wallace said. "We hold him to a standard right up here, so he doesn't get an excuse. It doesn't matter if he misses two months or two days. When he comes back and steps on the field, you have to be our guy. He is our guy. He did that. He didn't look like he missed one day. We're going to build on that and be the best offense we can be."
The Ravens are monitoring closely how Flacco bounces back physically from practices, not wanting him to experience any setbacks that will extend into the regular season. The point of holding him out of practice as long as the team did was to get in front of the injury, so the 32-year-old quarterback won't have to manage the pain and discomfort all year.
Flacco said he won't be weightlifting in the near future, but otherwise, he said he's practicing like he normally would.
"There have been no setbacks at all in the whole process. We said all along that that was the main thing: no setbacks. There were no setbacks. We were assured he'd be ready to go. He's ready to roll," Harbaugh said before Wednesday's practice. "I don't think there's any danger, as far as I know. I haven't been told there is. He's cleared to play; he's ready to go."
There is still an air of ambiguity about the injury. Flacco has declined to reveal the extent of the back discomfort or how it happened. He conceded that he felt some lower back tightness when he was working out on his own preparing for training camp, but he doesn't know if he sustained the injury lifting weights.
The Ravens, who learned about the injury the day before their first training camp practice, originally said their quarterback would be sidelined for just a week. About two weeks later, the team conceded that Flacco wouldn't play at all in exhibition games, but he would resume practicing during the preseason.
"You just kind of listen to what the doctors are telling you and how your symptoms are progressing. It seemed like it was pretty good news every time I would see somebody or talk to somebody, so I wasn't too worried about it," Flacco said. "Plus, I didn't really figure I was not going to play at some point. The thing is, it was not something that was completely crippling to the point where if it was the Super Bowl, I couldn't play. So, I don't think I was ever worried about it, in terms of that point. But it was more one of those things where if you don't give it rest, you are going to be dealing with it all year. If you give it the right rest, then you probably won't have to deal with it all year."
Asked if he would've returned much sooner if it was the regular season, Flacco said, "I definitely would have tried to."
Flacco, though, understands the unpredictability of back injuries and knows that there are no guarantees that he won't be dealing with the injury again. He also has yet to be hit, but that figures to change Sunday against the Bengals.
"I am probably not going to think about it. That's the truth of it," he said. "Once the ball drops and once we are out there, I'm going to be dropping back playing, and I'm going to either notice that I got hit or I'm not going to notice. Usually you are getting hit when you don't see the guy, and you just get up off the ground and you don't even really realize it."
Adding to Flacco and the offense's challenge Sunday is the Ravens haven't beaten the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium since the 2011 season. Their struggles against Cincinnati are largely traced to Flacco's woes against the Bengals.
In 17 career games against Cincinnati, Flacco has thrown 21 interceptions and 16 touchdown passes. That's 10 more interceptions than he's thrown against any other team. He has also completed just 61 percent of his passes and has been sacked 35 times, the second most against any opponent.
Those past struggles and Flacco's limited practice time, however, haven't dulled the team's confidence in its longtime starting quarterback.
"We expect Joe Flacco to be Joe Flacco," rush linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "So if anybody else is expecting anything otherwise, sorry. But we expect Joe to be Joe."