August 3, 2017 -- Sports columnist Mike Preston second look at offensive tackle Austin Howard. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Ravens players and coaches insist there's plenty of time left to build some chemistry and continuity on offense. But really, what else are they going to say?
It has to be extremely hard to evaluate the offense when there's so many missing or moving pieces. How can the team get a true read on the wide receivers when Ryan Mallett has struggled mightily and the team's de facto No. 2 quarterback, Dustin Vaughan, played so poorly in the preseason opener that he was quickly yanked and has since been released? Can we truly gauge whether the running game has improved when the first-team offensive line changes on a seemingly daily basis?
James Hurst started at right tackle in Thursday's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins. By Saturday's practice, he was at left guard, with recently signed Austin Howard inserted at right tackle. With Ronnie Stanley missing practice the past two days, Hurst is now at left tackle. Credit Hurst for his versatility, but it has to be difficult to develop chemistry with so much change up front.
The Ravens have 3 1/2 weeks before they open the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals. If quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Breshad Perriman and Stanley are back practicing at this time next week, there is still enough time. But that's a big "if," as very little this summer has gone according to plan for the Ravens.
More on Mallett: It seems that every Ravens preseason game will be a referendum on Mallett's ability as a quarterback. The increased scrutiny is understandable, given Flacco's back concerns and Colin Kaepernick's availability.
But have we really learned anything about Mallett this summer? His accuracy and decision-making have been issues his whole career, and his training camp has been a continuation of that. Throw in a revolving door of offensive linemen and a lot of uncertainty at wide receiver and tight end, and you have a struggling offense.
Make no mistake, the Ravens know Mallett's flaws. But since drafting Tyrod Taylor in 2011, they have shown a reluctance to invest assets (money or high draft picks) in their backup-quarterback position.
Mallett makes $2 million, which is mid-level backup-quarterback money. Per contract data website Spotrac, 43 quarterbacks in the league will make more than Mallett this season. His salary this year is the same as that of Matt Barkley, Case Keenum, Mark Sanchez and Brandon Weeden, and less than that of guys like Landry Jones ($2.2 million), Matt Cassel ($2.6 million), Colt McCoy ($3 million) and former Raven Matt Schaub ($4.5 million).
With Flacco's durability, the Ravens clearly don't believe in spending much money on an upper-level backup quarterback. The only time Flacco has missed games was in 2015, when he tore up his knee in late November. The Ravens were 3-7 and going nowhere fast when the injury occurred.
So while they haven't been punished yet for not investing a lot in a backup quarterback, a case could be made that the position should become a bigger priority with Flacco now 32 years old and having taken a ton of hits over the years.
Theories on White are wrong: The idea that the Ravens concocted the severity of the thumb injury to undrafted wide receiver Tim White so that they can stash him on injured reserve — a narrative that has been strengthened by misinformed media members and fan speculation — is nonsensical for myriad reasons.
First, White could have helped them this year as a wide receiver and returner. You never know how the final three weeks of the preseason would have played out, but White was in position to not only make the team but also have a role on Sundays. With jobs potentially on the line this year, no coach or executive is going to prioritize next season over the current one.
Second, you can't officially put players on IR without them having clear waivers after the final roster cutdown to 53 players, which follows the final preseason game. So there are absolutely no benefits right now in shutting White down. It doesn't give you roster flexibility.
Third, the Ravens are dealing with a staggering number of injuries right now, and the wide receiver position has been hit reasonably hard. Perriman and Kenny Bell have been sidelined since early in camp because of hamstring injuries. Since White was ruled out, Quincy Adeboyejo has gone down with a knee injury. The Ravens simply aren't going to compound their injury situation by shutting down a good young player who could help them during the season.
Four, while stashing is frowned upon by the NFL, it happens pretty much everywhere. But nobody is stashing players after Week 1 of the preseason. Too much can happen over the rest of the preseason for teams to handcuff themselves with a rash decision after one game.
And one more quick point about White: The Ravens said the former Arizona State player is expected to miss the season. That doesn't mean he's not an option to be one of two players the Ravens place on IR with a designation to return later. But that doesn't need to be decided now.
Quick hits: Undrafted rookie running back Taquan Mizzell has been really impressive, and there should be a spot for him in the NFL, but I think it will be tough for him to crack the Ravens' 53-man roster. The Ravens already have Danny Woodhead, and Mizzell has a pretty similar skill set. … I'm a little surprised the Ravens haven't opened up a few roster spots by doing something with Bell and inside linebacker Lamar Louis, who are both dealing with injuries and not practicing. They could use a few more healthy bodies at certain positions. … Tight end Maxx Williams deserves a ton of credit for persevering through a serious knee surgery and getting back onto the field this summer. But in watching him run, it's still pretty clear that he has a ways to go. He has bulked up and gotten considerably stronger, so it will be interesting to see whether he becomes more of a blocking tight end, assuming he's on the season-opening roster. … In about a month, second-year offensive lineman Matt Skura went from a guy I thought might not make the team to the team's top reserve at three positions. … I'm not sure the Ravens have seen enough in fullbacks Lorenzo Taliaferro or Ricky Ortiz to feel comfortable with either as the lead blocker in a key fourth-and-short situation. At least, not yet. … Every time an NFL team loses a member of its front seven to a season-ending or significant injury, as the Detroit Lions recently did, I picture Ravens officials poring over that team's roster to see whether they have any excess offensive linemen who might intrigue them in a potential trade.