Ravens quarterback Ryan Mallett talks about preparing for the opening preseason game against the Washington Redskins. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
The storm clouds that forced the Ravens to move Monday's training camp practice indoors have parted over quarterback Ryan Mallett.
The team's pursuit of free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick seems to have slowed if not stopped altogether. Mallett has settled in after a rocky start to training camp. And with long-time starter Joe Flacco remaining sidelined with a back injury – and no indication that his return to the field is imminent – Mallett continues to get valuable repetitions with the first team.
Following Monday's workout, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Mallett will start and play "pretty extensively" in Thursday's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium.
"How much that ends up being probably will be determined," Harbaugh said. "We'll have a plan, but during the game, I'll probably have to get a sense of that and how I feel about it. But yes, it's an opportunity for Ryan to get ready.
"He's had that chance before last year in the offseason before Joe got back for training camp. Those reps are really huge for a quarterback. He'll want to make the most of all those reps with the ones and we'll just see where it goes from there."
This is hardly new territory for Mallett, the 29-year-old quarterback who signed with the Ravens in mid-December of the 2015 season and led an upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers less than two weeks later. With Flacco still working his back from a knee injury last summer, the Ravens held him out of their first two preseason games, with Mallett starting both.
But this hardly feels like your ordinary preseason assignment for a veteran backup quarterback. Mallett has been highly-scrutinized since the first day of training camp after it was revealed a day earlier that Flacco wouldn't be ready to go because of a back injury.
Harbaugh's acknowledgment that the Ravens were looking into adding Kaepernick put further attention on Mallett's play, which was erratic and mistake-prone through the first week of camp. During the team's second camp practice, Mallett was intercepted five times and after the fifth one, he threw his white towel in the air as if it was a penalty flag.
There's been no outward display of frustration since and there have also been fewer interceptions for Mallett, who is making much better decisions.
"Every day, I'm just trying to get better, trying to get in better sync with my team, better timing," Mallett said when asked about how he compartmentalizes all the talk about Flacco's status and Kaepernerick's potential fit. "I've got tunnel vision. I'm not really worried about what's going on outside of this building.
"It's training camp. I think it's practice eight or nine. So every day, we're just trying to get better, trying to get more cohesive, get our timing down. So I think we're coming along."
A solid effort by Mallett and the first-team offense Thursday night could help ease some of the angst about their performance in camp. Harbaugh tends to lean on the conservative side when it comes to playing front-line veterans in the first preseason game.
Starting guardsMarshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, who has been sidelined from practice in recent days because of an undisclosed injury, likely won't play Thursday. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman continues to be sidelined with a hamstring injury and Harbaugh could opt to rest some of the team's other offensive skill position players, given the number of injuries the Ravens have already endured.
But for Mallett, it's an extended chance to continue to gain some chemistry with the Ravens' other receivers while also solidifying his role as Flacco's top backup. The Ravens have been mum on Kaepernick in recent days, but they could always revisit the situation if Mallett struggles.
"Every game is a big opportunity, every practice is a big opportunity. So right now, we're worried about practice tomorrow, and we're just taking it day-to-day, and on Wednesday night, we'll start really gearing up for Thursday," Mallett said.
The Ravens continue to say little about when Flacco will return. Originally, Harbaugh said that he had hoped the 10th-year pro would miss only about a week. On several occasions, Harbaugh has said that Flacco is making nice progress and is feeling better, but Thursday represents the two-week mark for him not being on the field.
"As a coach, you want to get him in there as soon as you can. That's the bottom line. I wanted him here yesterday. I wanted him here a week ago. I wanted him here the first day," Harbaugh said. "As soon as he's ready to go, then we'll go to work and get him ready. I don't think it's a problem because Joe knows the offense, but still, there's a rhythm, a chemistry, a timing and an execution that practice is valuable for. The sooner the better, but not before he's ready. Again, we just wait as coaches.
"When [the training staff] tell us he can practice, we coach them. In the meantime, he's in meetings and all of that. He's been here just like all of the guys."
Harbaugh continues to insist that he's not concerned about Flacco's absence.
"This is his 10th year now. He knows football. Every play we are running, he has run before numerous times, so that part of it is not a problem," Harbaugh said.
Still, it feels odd for the Ravens to be preparing for a season and not have Flacco out on the field. Nobody around the team could even remember the last time Flacco missed a single training camp practice before this year. Currently, he's missed 10 and counting.
"That's Joe Flacco. Of course, we're missing Joe Flacco," running back Terrance West said. "But it's all about the next man up in this league."