Next step could be a big one Next step for Ravens QB Flacco could be big one

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Flacco aiming to prove that he's ready to start

August 31, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

The preseason has taught Joe Flacco some vital lessons, from understanding how to take care of the football to dealing with surprise starts.

What the rookie quarterback will learn next is how the Ravens will continue his education.

Do you give him the ball to start the season opener? Or do you hand him the clipboard and tell him to observe from the sideline?

There is no question in Flacco's mind. Asked whether he felt ready to start the season opener, he responded without hesitation, "Yes."

He doesn't want to be a spectator for a season the way Carson Palmer was. He wants to be thrown into the huddle as Kyle Boller was.

"How are you going to learn when you are sitting?" Flacco said. "You learn a lot of different ways, but the best way for me to learn is to go out there and experience it for yourself."

Flacco might have been the Ravens' best option even before Troy Smith went down with a tonsil infection and Boller suffered a serious shoulder injury. The 18th overall pick in this year's draft seems to be a bigger passing threat than Smith and appears to have more pocket presence than Boller.

But the Ravens have publicly expressed caution about rushing Flacco because Boller struggled as a rookie starter in 2003. Some team officials said the Ravens could still go with Smith as the starter, even though he hasn't practiced in more than a week.

Asked whether the Ravens were confident they could win with Flacco as the starting quarterback, coach John Harbaugh said: "We're confident we can win with whoever we put back there. Whoever lines up back there, we expect him to win."

The trouble for the Ravens is analyzing Flacco's performances.

He held his own in two preseason starts against defenses that came out with basic schemes. In the regular season, opposing defenses will break out more complex blitz packages and coverages.

Flacco knows he still has to convince the coaching staff that he is capable of starting immediately.

"It's up to me to go out there in practice and prove that I'm ready for that," he said.

Flacco doesn't have to prove he can handle adversity.

Because Smith was scheduled to start the third preseason game, against the St. Louis Rams, Flacco didn't take a snap with the first-team offense that week. When Smith became ill, Flacco was told only hours before the game that he would be starting.

"He seems to be able to take the unknown and adjust, not letting it fluster him," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "He tends to take things in stride, which is hard for any of us to do. I don't know if I've ever been around a guy that's handled a situation like that better."

Even though he didn't rush Philip Rivers in San Diego or John Beck in Miami, Cameron seems to think young quarterbacks grow faster by playing.

"[Flacco] learned more in those four quarters than he learned in all the days combined since he got here," Cameron said of Flacco's start in the third preseason game. "The only way you truly learn is in a game environment."

In his first start, Flacco acknowledged being "amped up" in the first half, when he was 4-for-13 passing for 33 yards. He seemed to settle down during halftime and finished 18-for-37 for 152 yards and a touchdown.

In his second start Thursday, Flacco seemed more confident, connecting on eight of 13 passes for 72 yards.

Teammates say they can't tell whether Flacco is excited, frustrated or angered.

"The dude is cool. He doesn't show too much emotion," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "As a quarterback, that's how you want it sometimes. You don't let the game get too big or let the situation get too low for you. I think the Rams game will work wonders for him going forward in his career."

According to Mason, composure could be the most important characteristic for quarterbacks.

"That poise factor plays a big part in how good a quarterback can be in this league," he said. "If you don't have poise, you're not going to last. You can be the best thrower and [have] all the smarts in the world. But if you don't have poise under pressure, you're not going to last long."

Flacco's poise was constantly tested in what became a trying preseason.

In his first game, he fumbled while being sacked on his second play. In his second game, he coughed up the ball again while being sacked.

But he bounced back and didn't turn the ball over in his final two games.

"Everything you face is a learning experience," Flacco said. "As long as you take it the right way and be tough through the whole situation, you're going to learn a lot from it. I just want to learn as much as I can."

Flacco said he has always dealt with problems with an even-keel nature, a mind-set that could be pivotal if he is named the Ravens' starting quarterback.

"The last thing you need to do is let bad thoughts creep in your mind," Flacco said. "I have the confidence to go out there and do it every play."

Season opener: Bengals @Ravens, next Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 13

Radio: 97.9 FM,

1090 AM

Line: Bengals

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Learning curve

Having selected Joe Flacco with their first pick in this year's NFL draft, the Ravens will be investing a lot of time - and money - into turning him into a professional quarterback. Periodically throughout the process of educating Flacco, The Baltimore Sun will provide updates on his progress and future.

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