Ravens' Flacco has plenty of new targets

Quarterback already on same page with Boldin, Stallworth

May 08, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

Anquan Boldin made a tough catch across the middle for a long completion. Donte' Stallworth zoomed up the sideline for a nonchalant, one-handed grab. And rookie tight end Ed Dickson dove to pull in a pass on a slant route.

Every time quarterback Joe Flacco completed a pass to a new target, it not only flashed the potential for the Ravens' upgraded passing attack, but it showed how much offseason time they've already dedicated to building chemistry.

The Ravens don't just expect to be a Top 10 passing offense in the NFL because it looks that way on paper. Running routes at "Flacco speed" — as Dickson described it — the Ravens are proving that they want to be one.

"If we continue to work as hard as we're working offensively, then we have an outstanding chance to reach expectations," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said after the second day of the Ravens' mandatory minicamp. "We've all seen offenses or teams in this league that have talent and they don't play well. What we have to do is we have to work hard."

While this marked only the second day of minicamps for the Ravens, their hard work dates back to the middle of March. About two months after the Ravens lost to Indianapolis in the playoffs, Flacco was back at Ravens headquarters, playing pitch-and-catch with Stallworth (who signed as a free agent) and Boldin (who was traded to the Ravens by the Arizona Cardinals) about three days a week.

These unpublicized sessions — there were no reporters or defensive players present — allowed Flacco to find his timing with Stallworth, who immediately impressed with his quickness, and Boldin, who reached back for passes to make tough catches look quite easy.

Throwing to so many new targets (Boldin, Stallworth and two rookie tight ends) is a different challenge for Flacco, who only had one new wide receiver last season (Kelley Washington).

"I feel comfortable throwing them the ball," Flacco said. "Now, we've got to make sure we get on the same page with what they're actually going to do on a route. They have to understand exactly what we're looking for. It's one thing to go in there on a chalkboard and give them the play. But it's another thing to see how we've run it in the past and what's normal for us to do."

The four camps this spring represent the next step in the evolution of the Ravens' passing game. Flacco knows how Boldin will run his route when he is going 10 yards down the field and making a cut when no defender is there. Now, with the Ravens defense staring across the line, Flacco will find out how Boldin changes his route when a cornerback is covering him.

Every wide receiver comes out of his route differently. Derrick Mason might slide more after making his cut, while Boldin could be more stationary. It's got to come to the point where Flacco doesn't have to think about how a wide receiver runs the pattern. It needs to become second nature.

"You don't want to throw the ball to Anquan like you're throwing to Derrick because you might miss Anquan two feet wide," Flacco said. "You get a little feel for it."

The Ravens haven't had a Top 10 passing attack since 1997. Over the past 12 seasons, the Ravens have finished 22nd or lower in passing nine times.

Boldin and Stallworth both know what it takes to have a passing game that defenses fear. As the No. 2 wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, Boldin was part of one of the most prolific passing attacks the past three seasons. Stallworth was the No. 3 receiver during the New England Patriots' record-breaking 2007 season.

"First and foremost, they give you proven production," Cameron said of his two new wide receivers. "Talent is one thing, but production is another. Both of these guys have been productive players throughout their careers, some years more than others. When they stayed healthy, they have been on winning teams who have been productive. They've got playoff experience. They've got winning experience. They've got experience in critical situations."

Like Boldin and Stallworth, the Ravens' youngest newcomers are trying to assimilate as quickly as possible.

Dickson and fellow rookie tight end, Dennis Pitta, opened up a playbook containing between 100 and 200 plays when they reported for the first day.

"They're going at Flacco speed right now, so you got to latch on," Dickson said. "You've got to prove that you can play and think critically."

Dickson might have been forced to play more catch-up this offseason, if not for his dedication in the classroom.

NFL rules limit players who haven't graduated to one minicamp until their school's graduation, which would have forced Dickson to miss the rest of the offseason camps. But Dickson graduated from Oregon last spring with a degree in political science.

By hitting the books in college, Dickson won't fall behind in his Ravens playbook.

"Basically, I want to be that one or two punch that can give them a lift when the [starters] are tired," Dickson said.

At this point, no one on the Ravens offense is showing signs of tiring. Even the mistakes made during minicamp — Flacco overthrew Boldin in the end zone and Boldin dropped a deep post pass — haven't been mental ones.

The Ravens understand what they need to fix and how to fix it.

"The one common denominator is all the guys are pretty much in sync with each other on and off the field," Stallworth said. "It's more like a family environment. I've been on teams that haven't been as good and situations where everybody wasn't on the same page. That's what we're trying to build right now. So far, it's coming together pretty well."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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