Joe Flacco’s absence from the first two days of training camp practices has been quite evident for the Ravens who have struggled offensively to move the ball and are spending far too much time chasing defensive players following interceptions.
The two days haven’t been easy for Flacco either. Entering his 10th NFL season, Flacco has never been sidelined for the start of camp but he’s grudgingly accepted the benefits of rest as he recovers from a recent back injury.
“This thing, it’s going to calm down and I’m going to feel good,” Flacco said following Friday’s practice, his first public comments since the news of his injury surfaced. “I think a big part of it is making sure I rest right now and don’t push it to the extra point, and make it something that I will be dealing with for the rest of the season. I think if I take the rest now early on, I won’t have to deal with it the rest of the season.
“I feel good,” Flacco added. “I’m disappointed that I’m not out there, but I feel good.”
Flacco didn’t provide too many details of how the injury happened or a timetable for his return. He did indicate that he’s been told that the injury shouldn’t affect him in the regular season.
It’s been widely reported that Flacco hurt his back working out, but he claimed that he just felt the soreness increase gradually and it peaked earlier this week, prompting the Ravens to send him for an MRI.
He also denied that his back discomfort comes from a disc issue, saying that it’s more stiffness that the Ravens are being cautious and conservative with before he gets the green light to start throwing again and return to practice.
On Thursday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that Dr. John Carbone, a back specialist, recommended Flacco taking a week off and then the quarterback might be ready to go from there.
“It is kind of a waiting game,” Flacco said. “I think we are being conservative, a little bit cautious. I have some tightness down there. Hopefully, it is not too long, but at the same time, it just one of those things where you have to be patient and not let your competitive nature get the best of you. I want to be out there more than anybody, and it is tough to be sitting in the training room and watch everything go on.”
Without Flacco on the field, the offense has been overwhelmed by the defense in the first two days of practice. Ryan Mallett, the team’s backup quarterback who is now working with the first team, was intercepted five times in Friday’s workout, including twice by rookie first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
The frustration appeared to peak with Mallett throwing his towel up in the air, as if it was a penalty flag, following his final interception.
Mallett and journeyman Dustin Vaughan, who is in his fourth organization in four years, had been the team’s only two healthy quarterbacks, prompting the Ravens to use offensive assistant Matt Weiss under center as a stand-in during Thursday’s practice.
The Ravens added quarterback before Friday’s workout, signing David Olson, who had played at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh and was most recently a quarterback for the KC Phantoms of the Champions Indoor Football League. Olson is the proverbial “camp arm,” a quarterback who will help share the reps and workload. There’s no certainty that Olson will remain on the roster when Flacco returns.
“It has to do with our need,” John Harbaugh said. “Joe's day-to-day. Do we really have to make that move or not? That's the decision that really has to be made. I think there's a lot of layers to it, just from the football standpoint. I'll focus on the football part of it. If there are other layers to it, then I think that's taken into consideration at the appropriate level.
“You have to check all those boxes out before you can pull the trigger and do something. We're in the process of doing that,” Harbaugh added. “There's a reason Colin is not signed yet. And all of those things are all of the considerations and factors. It's also a football fit kind of thing. You have to look at your offense and say, 'OK, when you talk about the backup quarterback and the third quarterback, because Ryan Mallett's here, too. We have Ryan Mallett and we have Joe Flacco.’ We like Ryan Mallett as a backup quarterback and he fits the offense. We've just got to figure and see what's best for your team, but when it started, when you start with how good a football player he is, oh, absolutely, he's a good enough football player to be here. That's where you start.”
Complicating the Kaepernick situation is the fact that the Ravens have very little salary cap space – they have only $6.9 million remaining per the NFL Player Association salary cap report – and they are still hoping to upgrade the roster in numerous areas.
Harbaugh mentioned Thursday that he’d like to see the Ravens add another running back and tight end, and the needs along the offensive line got a bit more pronounced with starting center candidate John Urschel’s surprise decision to retire Thursday.
So assuming Flacco is healthy soon – and he expects to be – signing Kaepernick could easily be considered more of a luxury than a necessity. Flacco said he’d love to see Kaepernick, his Super Bowl XLVII counterpart, get another opportunity in the NFL and he believes Baltimore would be a nice landing spot for the former 49er.
Flacco just doesn’t want Kaepernick to get a starting opportunity at his expense. That’s why Flacco is making sure to take the time off he needs to heed off potential issues later in the season.
“It is so early on in camp that it is kind of useless to push through and maybe hurt yourself even more,” Flacco said. “We have a little bit of time at this point, and we can take our time a little bit with it. It is not that I want to, but we can and that is why we are doing it.”