Bright lights

On the Ravens' Joe Flacco

Rookie quarterback not shying away from attention

July 22, 2008|By PETER SCHUMUCK

If you wandered into the Ravens' training camp headquarters yesterday afternoon and witnessed the news conference to make official the signing of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, it would have been hard not to come to the same conclusion that I did:

Flacco is the man.

(Well, maybe not The Man. This team still has some major stars who wouldn't take kindly to a rookie from a Football Championship Subdivision school already being mentioned as a possible The Man candidate, but Flacco clearly was The Guy at the center of everything yesterday as the Ravens began reporting to the Best Western Westminster Catering and Conference Center Hotel.

(Pardon this brief detour in my stream of consciousness, but don't you think that's a lot of name for a motel on Route 140? Brett Favre's retirement wasn't that long.)

Keep in mind, the Ravens recapture our imagination every year about now - offering beleaguered Baltimore sports fans some comfort as the Orioles begin to exit the stage - but this is different. The Orioles are still fairly interesting, actually, but everybody seems to be wacko over Flacco.

The Ravens traded up in the draft to make him the quarterback of the future. They signed him to a five-year contract with an $8.75 million guarantee. They refuse to rule him out as the starter for the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Everybody wants to see him take over behind center as soon as possible, except maybe Kyle Boller and Troy Smith.

It won't be long before somebody coins the phrase "Flaccomania," though I thought it would take longer than that. He already has a nickname on the football Web sites: Bazooka Joe.

I was half-expecting new coach John Harbaugh to try to temper the expectations that followed young Joe into camp, but he didn't lecture anybody about putting too much pressure on the kid or spending too much time during training camp speculating about his chances of starting right away. Quite the contrary.

"Maybe in some ways that will be good because he'll take some of the heat," Harbaugh said. "We'll just all run for cover under Flacco and make him answer all of the tough questions."

Harbaugh was only half-joking. The Ravens wouldn't have drafted Flacco if they didn't think he could bear up under the strain of a high-profile quarterback competition.

"Building a football team is a complex thing, and there are going to be a lot of story lines in this camp," Harbaugh said. "I'm sure you guys will be on top of them. Maybe we'll get a chance while you guys are talking about the quarterback controversy, we'll be building a football team."

We can only hope. The Ravens finished 5-11 (.313) last season, thanks to a wave of injuries that crippled what was thought to be a playoff-caliber team. They fell so hard, in fact, that it's no longer fair to use them to shame the Orioles, who have not had a winning percentage that low in the 54 1/2 -year history of the franchise.

Flacco, like Harbaugh, is a fresh face who represents change and engenders optimism in a fan following that has been waiting quite a long time for the Ravens to develop a franchise quarterback. He might eventually grow tired of the daily speculation about his status, but he met it head-on yesterday.

"It's a position I was put in, and that's what I expect," he said. "Anytime that you feel the way I do about yourself and about the way you play football, it doesn't bother you when people expect you to do something. I put enough expectations on myself, and I expect myself to go out there and play the way I want to. If things don't always go my way, I think I'm capable of handling that mentally."

The time has come to find out. The quarterback competition begins in earnest today when the Ravens hold their first summer workout at McDaniel College.

Harbaugh was careful to cast Flacco as a long shot to start the regular-season opener, but he was just as careful not to place that outside the realm of possibility. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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