NFL training camp winners and losers: Bad news engulfs Ravens – NFL.com
No team had a worse first week of training camp than the Baltimore Ravens. From a season-ending injury to the team’s most talented running back (Kenneth Dixon) to injury clusters at tight end and cornerback to a second early retirement of the offseason (center John Urschel, who exits the stage six months after LB Zach Orr), the Ravens have already hit Bad-Camp-News Bingo. But Joe Flacco’s back injury is what should be keeping coach John Harbaugh’s staff up at night.
The disc issue, first reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, was suffered a few weeks ago. Yet Flacco is still not throwing and admitted to struggling to bend over. Perhaps another week or two of rest will solve the issue, but the Ravens and Flacco don’t really know. No one ever knows when it comes to back injuries. Even if Flacco returns to practice on the early side of his recovery timeline, it will be a surprise if he plays much in the preseason. That leaves a lot of snaps available for Ryan Mallett and Dustin Vaughan, not to mention a growing need for another veteran quarterback.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, addressing the audience of a fan forum Sunday, mentioned the team had some interest in Robert Griffin III. Ravens president Dick Cass confirmed the team has had direct discussions with Colin Kaepernick and is weighing whether or not to sign him. That calculus includes reaching out to sponsors and fans, Cass admitted. Bisciotti said he spoke to Ray Lewis on Sunday morning about his opinion on possibly signing Kaepernick.
From the outside looking in, this is an incredible amount of background work to put into Kaepernick, unless the coaches had a strong interest in signing him. Harbaugh made as much clear when calling Kaepernick a “great guy” last week and revealing that they’ve spoken multiple times this offseason. That press conference sounded like the first step in making a public case for Kaepernick to fans and possibly ownership, not that it should be necessary. Kaepernick is a far superior option to Mallett or Griffin based on game film, statistics and Kaepernick’s familiarity with Baltimore’s coaching staff. (Ravens senior offensive assistant Greg Roman ran Kaepernick’s offense in San Francisco.) The decision whether to sign Kaepernick, however, clearly involves more than coaches, going to the ownership level because of Kap’s political activism. Bisciotti took a question from a fan about Kaepernick possibly “damaging” the team’s brand, as if the quarterback had committed a crime.
“Quantify hurting the brand,” Bisciotti responded via the team’s website. “I know that we’re going to upset some people, and I know that we’re going to make people happy that we stood up for somebody that has the right to do what he did. Non-violent protesting is something that we have all embraced.
“I don’t like the way he did it. Personally, I kind of liked it a lot when he went from sitting to kneeling. I don’t know, I’m Catholic — we spend a lot of time kneeling.”
I’ve believed all along that Kaepernick will find a team before Week 1 because he can upgrade many backup quarterback situations and NFL teams have proven again and again they’ll ultimately act in their own self-interest. The Ravens should be that team. Even when Flacco returns to the practice field in a week or three, the shadow of his back injury will hang over the organization until he proves he can withstand regular-season punishment. Whether Mallett continues to occasionally throw five interceptions in a practice or literally throw up a white flag, Kaepernick is likely to win an open competition over Mallett.
The signing might not happen soon enough to satisfy my desire for this phase of the Kaepernick news cycle to end, but it should happen. It makes too much football sense. To paraphrase Johnny Kerr or perhaps Buddy Ryan, coaches who start listening to the fans wind up sitting next to them.
The Ravens had a brutal week. Here are some of the other winners and losers from the first week of camp:
Mature holdouts: Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Texans offensive tackle Duane Brown and Raiders OT Donald Penn are all skipping the early portions of training camp in search of new contracts. That’s normal. The relative lack of media hand-wringing or threatening quotes from coaches is refreshing. Everyone appears to understand these are grown men doing what they feel is necessary to be paid fairly, and there’s a long way to go before Week 1.
Even the Los Angeles Times’ mild chastising of the Rams regarding Donald can be seen as a positive. The paper is starting to treat the Rams like any other local team.
Jaylon Smith, LB, Dallas Cowboys: The proof in Smith’s recovery resides in his increasing workload. The second-year linebacker participated in full-contact drills for a second straight day Sunday, a terrific sign coming off the devastating Fiesta Bowl knee injury that forced him to miss all of last season.
Cowboys camp is a petri dish of overstatement, but the respect Smith has already engendered from his teammates for his intellect, leadership ability, explosion and instincts is off the charts. Most importantly, his body is responding to every challenge in the early going.
Lovers of daily practice stats for New York Jets QBs: A tradition that started during the titanic Tebow-Sanchez battle of 2012 was continued during the Geno-vs.-Vick and Geno-vs.-Fitz quarterback competitions of the following years. Yes, all Jets beat reporters appear to be contractually obligated to tally daily practice stats, complete with a first-day power ranking of their performance in practice without pads. The New York Post summed up the mood: “No reporters were hit by errant passes on Day 1 of Jets training camp. That’s progress.”
Rob Ninkovich, DE, New England Patriots: His retirement press conference was so packed with former teammates and coaches that Bill Belichick had to sit on the ground. Belichick told Ninkovich he’s never coached a more unselfish player, and Tom Brady was there for an emotional embrace with the former fifth-round pick. Ninkovich mentioned how he nearly gave up on football after failing to stick with the Saints or Dolphins early in his career before settling in for eight seasons in Foxborough. Roughly 40 players and coaches showed up for the press conference, a reminder that it’s possible — if rare — to go out on top in professional football.
Had a rough week
Denver Broncos pass rush: Denver owned the deepest group of pass-rushing linebackers in football last season. Now the team could be starting Kasim Edebali — a player who couldn’t stick with the Saints defense — in Week 1. Von Miller’s supporting cast is quite depleted, thanks to DeMarcus Ware’s retirement followed by injuries to Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett. With Ray (wrist) and Barrett (hip) expected to be sidelined into the regular season, the team’s “No Fly Zone” secondary will be asked to carry too heavy a burden.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph already faced the difficult task of fitting into Wade Phillips’ considerable cowboy boots. Now Joseph has to deal with these pass-rush concerns in addition to figuring out a defensive line with two starting jobs open. There will be no easing into the season, not with the Chargers’ and Cowboys’ offenses up first on the schedule.
The Arizona Cardinals’ cursed No. 2 cornerback spot: Little-known second-year cornerback Ronald Zamort started drawing attention early in training camp after lining up as a starter opposite Patrick Peterson.