ORLANDO, FLA. — The Ravens upgraded their wide receiver position this offseason for quarterback Joe Flacco. They brought in a former NFL quarterback to be his position coach.
Then, they threw a curveball at Flacco.
Earlier this month, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn took Flacco out to the University of Southern California, where he trained with a baseball pitching coach. The week-long sessions focused on his throwing motion and the small muscles around the shoulder, all of which are expected to help Flacco's accuracy, arm strength and longevity.
The hope is all of this hard work will result in a breakthrough season for the third-year starter.
"I want Joe to be a championship quarterback," coach John Harbaugh said today at the NFL owners meetings. "There are terms like 'elite quarterback' and 'franchise quarterback.' All of those things are where we expect Joe to go. He does even moreso than we do. You know how Joe is. He already thinks he is the best quarterback in the NFL.
Harbaugh added, "But he knows that he's always going to have a lot of work to do. I know physically he needs to get stronger. Mentally, he needs to get sharper. Technique-wise, he needs to get more pronounced. But the expectation is to be the winningest quarterback in the NFL."
Flacco guided the Ravens to the playoffs for the second straight season, but he experienced some uneven moments last season after getting injured.
In Flacco's first 14 games this season, he completed 64.8 percent of his passes and averaged 240.6 yards passing. In his last four games (including two in the postseason), he connected on 53.9 percent of his passes and averaged 122.7 yards passing.
In explaining Flacco's injury for the first time in detail, Harbaugh said today that his quarterback had "major bruises up and down his left leg" late in the season, which resulted in swelling and limited his mobility.
"It wasn't affecting his performance to the extent that he couldn't win for us or that he wasn't our best option," Harbaugh said. "Joe is tough. He was fighting through it, and he was very courageous about it."
One reporter asked Harbaugh if he compares Flacco to Brett Favre like Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid once did with Donovan McNabb.
"That's not Joe," Harbaugh said. "He's been asked about Brett Favre. He refuses to go there. He'll go, 'I'm Joe Flacco. You'll be talking about me in a couple of years.' He does it in a low-key way, but that's what he is basically saying. He refuses to be compared to anybody. I wouldn't have the audacity to do that."
Here are some other topics covered by Harbaugh on today:
*Starting left tackle Jared Gaither hasn't shown up for the Ravens' voluntary offseason workout program, which has disappointed Harbaugh.
The Ravens used a first-round tender on Gaither, a restricted free agent. But Gaither is seeking a new long-term deal. His absence at Ravens headquarters could be viewed as a protest over his contract status.
"I really believe Jared is going to be a premier offensive tackle in this league," Harbaugh said. "The thing we need him to do is to get up there and start working on it. I talked to [Gaither's agent] Drew Rosenhaus and he tells me he's getting Jared in shape. The last time I checked Drew Rosenhaus doesn't coach the offensive line in the National Football League. Jared needs to be in our weight room with our players with our offensive line, becoming the player he can become."
Harbaugh added, "There's no leverage that's gained by not being with the team working out. If he thinks he's gaining some kind of leverage well he's not making himself the best player he can be. So, that's our position. Come out and go to work and become a great player."
*The Ravens have talked to free-agent kicker Shayne Graham, 32, who played the past seven seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals. The team could sign a kicker before the draft to compete with Billy Cundiff, Harbaugh said. The Ravens have also contacted Neil Rackers, the free-agent kicker from the Arizona Cardinals.
"We like Shayne Graham a lot," Harbaugh said. "Shayne is a highly sought after guy, too. He's a guy who's had a lot of success. Obviously, they had some operation problems that hurt them a little bit. But he's a hard worker and I think he's determined to prove himself again. I know he's knows what kind of kicker he is. It would be an interesting possibility. We'll see how it shakes out."
*Harbaugh continues to assume that Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed is not retiring. They have been texting back and forth, but they haven't gotten into "any deep conversation," according to Harbaugh.
"What I understand him saying is the door is always open," Harbaugh said. "He isn't going to play beyond what his body is going to allow. At the same time, I think he's going to play this year. I think he's going to play next year and the year after that until he says he's not."