QB Joe Flacco takes questions after morning practice. (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
Joe Flacco remembers when moving into the hotel room at training camp as a rookie was "uncomfortable."
Three years later, a more seasoned Flacco is teaching the offense to a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
Of all the changes that surround the opening of Ravens training camp -- from the additions of wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth to the drafting of two tight ends -- perhaps the biggest one is Flacco himself.
As coach John Harbaugh puts it, this offense is becoming Joe Flacco's offense.
He's taking more command and making more adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He's looking to become more effective in the red zone. And he's tutoring new backup quarterback Marc Bulger when everyone thought it would be the other way around.
"I want to be able to just run the show and go up and down the field, blow out points on the board and come out successful," Flacco said after a 75-minute practice featuring rookies and veterans coming off injuries. "That's what it's all about."
Few young quarterbacks have had as much success as Flacco. He has thrown for 6,584 yards, the fifth most in NFL history in a quarterback's first two seasons. He is the fourth starting passer since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to reach the playoffs in his first two seasons.
Now, 37 games into his NFL career, Flacco seems to be on the verge of turning from a developing quarterback to an elite one.
Wide receiver Mark Clayton said Flacco has a more "take-charge" attitude this season. Boldin indicated that the 25-year-old quarterback was ready to take the next step in the maturation process.
"I see a guy with a lot of potential," Boldin said. "He has the ability to take over a game. For me, I'm excited to have the opportunity to grow with him."
The national media are debating how much Flacco has grown this year. ESPN analyst John Clayton labels Flacco one of the "elite" quarterbacks in the NFL, saying he is on the verge of going to his first Pro Bowl. Michael Lombardi, a former personnel executive who is a columnist for NFL.com, doesn't have Flacco ranked among the top12 quarterbacks in the league, criticizing him for just dominating the bad teams (seven touchdown passes came against the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions).
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has no doubt that Flacco is primed to go to that next stage in his development.
"He's ready to have a great season because of the work he's put in," Cameron said. "His talent level and his drive will get him where we want him to be."
One way to gauge how much Flacco has taken control of the offense will be the Ravens' success in the red zone, which Harbaugh said is an emphasis this season.
Last year inside the opponents' 20-yard line, Flacco completed 24 of 46 passes for 183yards. He threw 12 touchdown passes and four interceptions for a quarterback rating of 65.4 (his overall regular-season rating was 88.9).
Three of the interceptions came in games the Ravens lost by less than a touchdown.
"For a young quarterback, it's the hardest area of the field just because it's a little bit tighter down there," Cameron said. "He's just got to get used to throwing into tighter windows, and you're not going to throw the ball into tighter windows unless you've got tremendous trust. And trust comes through time."
The offseason additions at wide receiver and tight end should make the job easier inside the 20-yard line, according to Flacco.
"I always feel comfortable in the red zone," Flacco said. "I always feel confident we're going to score. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it."
As Flacco's comfort increases, he can help others do the same. Teammates talk about how Flacco has become more vocal.
"You've got to make sure that after every play -- you know if somebody didn't get that detail -- you've got to go over to him personally as the quarterback and make sure they understand what they're supposed to do on that play," he said.
Another change in Flacco has been his interaction with the media. He is more loose and candid. He's actually pretty funny these days.
When asked whether he's conscious of being more excited about his new weapons on offense, Flacco said: "I don't make a conscious effort to be excited. When I get excited, I'll get excited. And, if not, then I won't be excited. I get excited more than you guys think. I have my own way of doing it. I don't run up and down and all over the place. I always looked at the kid that was doing that and kind of laughed at him."
But Flacco is very serious when discussing the Ravens' goals for this season.
He doesn't want to be on a wild-card team that has to play every playoff game on the road. He has his sights set on winning his first division title, which would provide a more favorable path to the Ravens' ultimate destination.
"Our expectations as players are high every year," Flacco said. "We expect to get to the Super Bowl and win it. Obviously, only one team does that a year, and we expect to be that team."
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