“Obviously, I got along with Coach Zorn,” Flacco said. “I think the statistics just worked out that way that year. But I think it is very important to have a relationship with your position coach, because they are the guys you spend every day with for long periods of time, and your success, I feel, has a lot to do with that relationship on the field and in the classroom, which is where you're going to get a lot of work done. So I think having a good, healthy relationship with your position coach can definitely translate to your mental well-being, which allows you to play at your best. You don't have anything holding you back.”
Esiason thinks Flacco's performance in last season's AFC championship game loss at New England is an indication that he has started to emerge as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Dungy believes he might be there.
“It's just one or two plays a game that determine if you're an elite quarterback or not,” said Dungy, who played quarterback in college. “He's playing at a high level, they've got talented receivers, they've played good on offense. It's that signature play in a game. Signature plays come from consistency, and that's what Jim will preach. You don't know when those plays are coming; you've got to be at peak efficiency every snap. It will be very minute, but it will probably show up in one or two plays.”
Those who wonder about the relationship Flacco has with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron believe that Caldwell can be “a buffer,” as Esiason put it, when any difficulties arise.
“There are coaches out there who are [tough], that don't have the flexibility or the patience. That's not who Jim Caldwell is,” Esiason said. “He's someone who has great understanding of the position, he coached it at the highest of high levels when he coached Peyton Manning. He's arguing on your behalf and can do that with another set of eyes and maybe he can loosen some of that tension that could have been there with Cam.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said during minicamp that Cameron “obviously, does a great job working on coaching the quarterbacks and [last year] we tied the offense a little more directly to Joe. This year Jim became available and it's been a perfect fit. The timing was really good, and the guy was right. Jim has done a great job, and those guys are really hitting it off.”
Manning gave Caldwell a strong recommendation when Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Harbaugh called the former Colts quarterback when Caldwell became available. Caldwell also talked with the Pittsburgh Steelers about their offensive coordinator's job.
While Caldwell and Manning eventually became close off the field because of their strong faith, the basis of their relationship was in taking the same approach to the game.
“He was extremely detailed,” Manning said. “I've always considered myself a good note-taker; Jim Caldwell might be the all-time note-taker. He always referred to those notes. I've always been a routine kind of guy and Jim Caldwell was very much the same kind of way. Prepractice drills, warm-ups, going over mechanics.”
In the short time he has worked with Caldwell, Flacco can see what Manning is talking about.
“Definitely, you can see that attention to detail right away,” Flacco said. “As an offensive guy, offense is generally detail-orientated, and you can see that Jim follows the general rules. You can see it in the meeting rooms especially — just the way we go about things in how detailed he is and going through everything to make sure he sees things the same way I do and I see things the same way he does. We always talk and have that open communication to ensure we have similar thoughts about something. He definitely wants everyone to be on the same page and everyone to be detail-orientated, and I've been able to pick that up in the couple weeks I've been with him.”
Dungy said that Caldwell's strength as a quarterbacks coach — the only position he has ever held in the NFL aside from being the head coach of the Colts — is that “I think he tailors the guy's mental approach to the game really well, he breaks it down and makes it really easy to understand what you have to do to be a great quarterback mentally.”
Said Manning, whose career will resume with the Denver Broncos after he missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury: “I'll always be very indebted to him for what he did for me. I felt like I definitely improved during our time together. I certainly had some of my best years as a quarterback under his tutelage.”
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