Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco talks about training camp and playing again after his season-ending knee injury. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)
It is the nature of a pro football training camp to begin with a large measure of uncertainty, if only because nothing is ever very certain in the NFL.
Every team has rehabbing players. Every team has a large group of rookies. Every team has new free agents. Even the lucky teams that will start off healthier and more established than the rest know they are subject to all manner of unforeseen circumstance.
The Ravens were one of those teams at this time last year, and everybody saw what happened. They hope they have made all the right offseason moves to turn around last season's hugely disappointing 5-11 record, but they will hold their first practice on Thursday with room to wonder about almost everything.
Don't misunderstand. There are all sorts of exciting possibilities. Quarterback Joe Flacco has recovered sufficiently from last year's season-ending knee injury to practice from Day 1. Potential Hall of Famers Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs, both coming off Achilles surgery, are expected to be ready for the season opener. The front office has juiced up the passing game with star-quality free agents Mike Wallace and Benjamin Watson.
It's just that each reason for renewed optimism is also a question that really hasn't been answered yet.
Flacco was upbeat during his first media session on Wednesday afternoon, but he's not 100 percent certain to start the season opener even though his recovery from ACL/MCL surgery has – by all accounts – gone very well.
Suggs is coming off his second Achilles surgery and will open camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He'll be 34 in October, so who really knows how far he can come back?
"We're going to find out,'' he said Wednesday in his first meeting with reporters in nearly a year.
If you're a fan, it's easy to construct a scenario in which Suggs comes back strong to beef up the pass rush and free agent safety Eric Weddle injects additional toughness in the defensive secondary. It's just as easy to look at all the quality depth at the skill positions and foresee a new day dawning for an offensive attack that will be reconfigured and ramped.
Sure, if all that happens and the Ravens get solid production from this year's draft class, they could take advantage of a more forgiving schedule than last year and jump back into the playoff hunt. They were considered a serious Super Bowl contender at this time last year, but there is so much to be determined during training camp that a case could be made for them ending this season at either end of the competitive spectrum.
Though Flacco might have more targets to throw to this year, he'll have to get to know some of them while sharing reps in camp with backup QB Ryan Mallett. He'll also have to get comfortable in his own skin after suffering a serious contact injury for the first time in his career, and he'll have to get acclimated to new teammates in all phases of the offense.
Still, he doesn't think that makes this training camp unusual.
"I think there are always a lot of questions going in,'' Flacco said. "I think you have a pretty good idea what the answers to them are, but you've just got to see for yourself. You have to see how the preseason games go. I think we've got a very talented group. I think we've got a good core group of guys and the other guys are just going to have to do their jobs and play consistently, just show up every day and get better and better and I think we're going to be good."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and follow him @Schmuckstop on Twitter.