Behind scenes, this assistant puts polish on quarterbacks

November 14, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,mike.preston@baltsun.com

Hue Jackson is becoming one of the best-kept secrets in the AFC North.

Who?

Hue.

He is the assistant coach who tutored quarterback Carson Palmer at Southern California, and then helped develop him with the Cincinnati Bengals. He is the Ravens' assistant coach in charge of developing rookie quarterback Joe Flacco.

"He has a wealth of knowledge about the game, and has coached in a lot of different offensive systems," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, a former Ravens defensive coordinator. "His knowledge of the game is matched only by his tremendous people skills."

In the wake of the Ravens' 41-13 thumping of the Houston Texans on Sunday, Flacco is getting more national attention. After nine games, the former Delaware star has completed 151 of 243 passes for 1,649 yards and seven touchdowns. He has seven interceptions but a quarterback rating of 79.7.

It's almost unimaginable that a rookie quarterback, no matter how talented, would win six of his first nine games. Jackson gives much of the credit to Flacco, whom he calls a tireless worker.

A lot of the national media give credit to Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who also helped develop Philip Rivers in San Diego.

But Ravens coach John Harbaugh speaks highly of Jackson, 43.

"If you take a look at the whole season, last game in particular, but really the whole season, Hue Jackson has done a tremendous job with our quarterbacks - and not just our quarterbacks, but with our offense in general from a game-plan perspective," said Harbaugh. "And not just with Joe, although Joe is the most obvious quarterback, but with all the quarterbacks, with Troy [Smith], with Todd [Bouman], with the guys that were here before."

Jackson is not just the quarterbacks coach, but he's also an adviser who works well with Cameron on devising and implementing the game plan. Jackson has an extensive background - he has been an assistant for 23 years.

He has been an offensive coordinator twice, first with Washington in 2003 and later with Atlanta in 2007. Besides grooming Palmer at USC, his most accomplished feat was coaching wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh from 2004 to 2006 and turning them into one of the most prolific receiving tandems in the NFL.

Jackson wasn't just their coach, but he also was their parent, psychologist, pastor, friend and consultant. At times, only Jackson could control the two knuckleheads.

"He has been much more than a coach, sometimes a big brother," Lewis said. "Players cling to that because he is very patient."

The Ravens needed someone like Jackson. When the quarterback competition started back in training camp, the Ravens had the erratic one in Kyle Boller. They also had Smith, who could change moods the way a chameleon changes colors. And then there was Flacco, the rookie without a clue.

After Boller was knocked out of the competition with an injury and Smith with an illness, that left the Ravens with two cool guys, Flacco and Jackson. The rest is now history.

"He's been great," Flacco said of Jackson. "We meet as quarterbacks pretty often, and Hue's in there, just as we all are, and we're trying to get better, and he's coaching us up really well."

There are constant comparisons of Flacco to Palmer, but Jackson is careful not to talk about either much. He doesn't want to put a lot of undue pressure on Flacco.

Sometimes, Jackson is as cool as Flacco.

"Each situation is different," Jackson said. "Carson played as a true freshman at USC, and he had some injuries that forced him to miss some time. Joe transferred from Pitt, and made his mark at Delaware. The obvious comparison is physical, but they have different styles.

"But both are poised, have strong work ethics, strong arms and are tall, athletic guys. But Carson plays for Cincinnati and Joe for Baltimore."

The lack of notoriety doesn't affect Jackson. He doesn't mind working in the background. He treats Flacco the way he treated Johnson and Houshmandzadeh.

"Those guys were characters," said Jackson of the Bengals' duo. "They were good guys, good football players. You handle those guys just like you handle the Joe Flaccos of this world. The beautiful part of this league is to coach guys, and get them to follow you and trust you, because we all want to go out on the field and produce."

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