Though their quarterback has bounced back from ACL surgery nearly eight months ago, the Ravens are missing part of their identity with key players still sidelined by injuries
BALTIMORE — All eyes were on the man in the knee brace. Joe Flacco looked sharp in just his fifth practice since returning from ACL surgery less than eight months ago, but then again, the absence of four other crucial players couldn’t be ignored either. During a nearly three-hour dress rehearsal in front of fans at M&T Bank Stadium, understudies stood in for receiver Steve Smith Sr. (Achilles), linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles), linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) and receiver Breshad Perriman (knee). Those four are on the PUP list, with no definitive timetable for return.
Even newcomers have noticed how much things have changed without Baltimore’s notable veterans doing their usual chirping on the field. “It is definitely different,” says Jerraud Powers, a former Cardinals safety now wearing the colors of a different bird. “Looking from the outside in, I was so used to seeing Steve, Suggs, and Dumervil and playing against those guys so much. Coming here and not seeing those guys, you definitely can feel that energy is not on the field.”
Despite the absence of those tone-setters, Flacco says he is most affected by the absence of Perriman, a second-year wideout who missed virtually his entire rookie campaign. “The really important one is Breshad,” Flacco says. “I’ve only practiced with him, like, twice last year. I really need to get on the same page with him.”
Team insiders say that Flacco has been throwing the ball quicker and, even more than usual, releasing it before wideouts have turned their eyes back toward the quarterback at the top of their routes. Because the Ravens have simplified their playbook this year, Flacco says there are fewer options for a receiver, making it easier for both ends of the connection to know what’s happening when they step to the line of scrimmage.
“He’s definitely been putting it in spots and trusting us to get there,” wideout Kamar Aiken says, noting that the goal of making quicker decisions is to work faster than the defense can adjust. “I think it will help him a lot. It will help him get his reads quicker, get the ball out quicker, let us get the ball quicker to turn up field and get more yards after contact.”
As for his surgically repaired knee? Flacco says it feels “absolutely fine.” For fans wanting more proof, one of Flacco’s reps during red-zone drills on Monday provided some evidence. For the first time in training camp, Flacco scrambled for a first down. On a third-and-4 situation, he tucked the ball and sprinted for the marker, not looking the least bit timid or hesitant. He picked up the first down and then trotted out of bounds. The stadium echoed with cheers, which will only get louder when—or if—more of his teammates are able to join him on the field.
Five Things I Thought About the Ravens
1) Joe Flacco likes Ben Watson. A lot. For fantasy nerds out there, I predict Watson will get 50-60 catches this season. Flacco threw seam-route balls to Watson several times on Monday night. There’s chemistry building between Flacco and the Ravens’ new tight end.
2) Fight night. Although many of the team’s alphas are among those sidelined, several fights broke out on the M&T Bank field throughout practice. Tight end Dennis Pitta left practice early with a sprained finger, the result from a scuffle with rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa. “That’s them boys in the trenches,” cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “They bang every play, couple words are said, couple cheap shots or what not. It happens in training camp. Once you are going against your same teammates so much every day, there are going to be some fights. We are almost getting to a point where guys are tired of going against each other, so I’m sure there will be more fights coming next week.”
3) Eric Weddle loves his new life in Baltimore. Weddle was one of the final few players left on the field signing autographs 15 minutes after practice ended. He only headed back to the locker room after hearing the stadium-wide announcement saying, “Coach Harbaugh needs all players in the locker room now.” Weddle’s experience and leadership is good for Baltimore’s secondary, a unit that finished with an NFL-worst six interceptions last season. Look for more about Weddle this Friday in our Talking Football column.
4) Rely on Justin Tucker. The kicker made a field goal from 63 yards, one yard shy of the NFL record. I found myself wanting to chant: One more kick! One more kick! Why not show off in front of the fans gathered at the stadium? Tucker made a 69-yarder in practice the day before. The guy is consistently good.
5) Joe Flacco is a Game of Thrones fan, so we brought out Jon Snow after practice to ask him how he would handle the White Walkers.
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