Start of something big?

Top pick Flacco aims to prove he can be No. 1 quarterback as a rookie

Ravens draft

April 28, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

Standing in front of photographers yesterday, Joe Flacco was asked to hold his jersey higher.

As the new Ravens quarterback did so, he nearly covered the face of coach John Harbaugh, who only comes to Flacco's shoulders.

There's no doubt that the 6-foot-6 Flacco stands above nearly everyone in the room.

The bigger question is whether Flacco will be standing above the rest of the Ravens' quarterbacks when the season begins Sept. 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

At his introductory news conference yesterday, Flacco said he thinks he can become the Ravens' starter this season.

"I want to get out on the field and prove that I can," said Flacco, who was wearing a purple Ravens cap. "It's going to be up to the coaches to make that final decision, but it's going to be up to me to prove to them that I am ready."

At the Ravens' pre-draft luncheon, general manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged that starting Kyle Boller as a rookie in 2003 was probably the wrong decision.

But after drafting Flacco, Harbaugh reiterated that there will be an open competition for the Ravens' starting job among Flacco, Boller and Troy Smith.

The trend in the NFL has been to sit rookie quarterbacks, especially early in the season.

Since Brian Billick started Boller in the 2003 opener, no other rookie quarterback drafted in the first round has started a game in the first two weeks of the season. In fact, of the 11 quarterbacks drafted in the first round from 2004 to 2007, five did not start any games in their first season.

But one of the reasons the Ravens drafted Flacco 18th overall was his ability to absorb information and take instruction.

He not only picked up a shortened version of the Ravens' playbook before the draft, but he also quickly adjusted his technique during a private workout with Ravens coaches.

"This guy is bright. Football makes sense to him," said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who said he will be the primary voice instructing Flacco this season. "Sometimes when you get a guy like that, he can be special."

Some draft observers have speculated that Flacco might need a couple years to develop before starting for the Ravens.

Because he is coming from Delaware, he didn't face many complicated defenses and didn't have to constantly make pre-snap reads.

Flacco is also coming from a system where he worked primarily out of the shotgun. With the Ravens, he'll have to focus on his footwork and learn how to work dropping back from under center.

But Cameron said that adjustment might be exaggerated. According to Cameron, the Ravens' offense has "evolved" to where the shotgun formation could be used half the time.

"We were looking for a guy that can function in the shotgun," Cameron said. "I think he's a perfect fit for what we want to do."

The Ravens, though, will be bringing Flacco and the rest of the rookies along slowly.

Even though the team will have a minicamp at the end of the week, the rookies won't practice with the Ravens until May 9-11.

"I'm anxious to get in here and start learning," Flacco said. "I have confidence in my ability. It's not about talking about it. It's about proving it."

Flacco recounted his exciting weekend, recalling the moment he saw a Baltimore area code on an incoming call on his cell phone.

He said he was surprised because he knew the Ravens had the 26th overall pick. He didn't know that the Ravens had traded up to draft him.

"It lets me know that they wanted me," Flacco said. "I don't know what's more important than that."

The Ravens, who have watched eight of their 14 first-round picks become Pro Bowl players, have equally high expectations for Flacco.

"The way the three of us [Newsome, Harbaugh and director of college scouting Eric DeCosta] feel ... he will measure up to the other first-round picks that we've had here," Newsome said.

Flacco is just ecstatic that he will have an opportunity to win the Ravens' starting job.

He transferred from the University of Pittsburgh after two seasons because he didn't feel he was given the chance to compete. In two seasons at Delaware, he completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 7,046 yards (second most in school history), throwing 41 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

"I had to go down to the minor leagues of college football to prove who I was," Flacco said. "I'm going to carry that with me for the rest of my life and use it for the best."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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