New Ravens QB coach Jim Caldwell hopes to raise Joe Flacco's game

Caldwell changed Peyton Manning's career path at similar point

  • Joe Flacco talks with Jim Caldwell, the Ravens' new quarterbacks coach at an organized team activity in May. Caldwell helped develop Peyton Manning at a similar point in his career.
Joe Flacco talks with Jim Caldwell, the Ravens' new quarterbacks… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
July 26, 2012|Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

There was an assumption during Jim Caldwell's eight years as quarterbacks coach of the Indianapolis Colts that he didn't have much to do. By the time Caldwell arrived for the 2002 season, Peyton Manning was four years into what is now sure to be a Hall of Fame career and his numbers were already impressive for a young NFL quarterback.

But longtime Colts coach Tony Dungy, who had brought Caldwell with him to Indianapolis after one season in Tampa Bay, said Caldwell deserves a great deal of credit for Manning becoming one of the elite quarterbacks in NFL history. So does Manning, who thinks the role of quarterbacks coach is often overlooked, whether the quarterback is a rookie or an established star.

“It's easy for a quarterback to get into bad habits if someone is not there watching you,” Manning told The Baltimore Sun. “A lot of drills that we did … I still do today. You might even call them simple quarterback drills, but they're all about the mechanics and fundamentals of playing the position. In the heat of battle on a critical third-and-6, I think it's important that your mechanics and discipline and fundamentals kind of show up. That's why you practice them all the time so that you can execute your job.”

Caldwell, who succeeded Dungy as head coach and helped lead the Colts to the Super Bowl during his first season in 2009, is now being asked to do for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco what he did for Manning. Caldwell, 57, was hired by the Ravens in January, three days after being fired following his team's Manning-less 2-14 season in 2011.

The task of working with the 27-year-old Flacco, who is going into his fifth NFL season, excites Caldwell.

“Obviously, he's a talented guy. Very talented,” Caldwell said during minicamp in June. “If you've seen him practice out there of late, he's done a tremendous job. But even before that, even looking at him from the other side of the field when we were preparing for them, he was a guy with talent, with ability, great desire, and he's a fine leader as well.”

The perception is that Caldwell will have a lot more work in Baltimore than he ever did in Indianapolis.

Dungy, now an analyst for NBC, disagrees.

“I think Joe is ahead of Peyton in his first four years because he has a better team around him,” Dungy said. “I think what everybody is waiting for is just the championship. …You might see a better player and a more mature player and it might not translate into more wins and a championship, but I'd be shocked if you don't see Joe Flacco play at a higher level under Jim Caldwell.”

Flacco, who shares a birthday (Jan. 16) with his new position coach, has not talked with Manning about Caldwell, but is aware that the perennial All-Pro quarterback speaks highly of him. As the Ravens open training camp Thursday in Owings Mills, the relationship between Flacco and Caldwell is still in its early stages.

“I think it's always an adjustment when you work with someone new and someone who is trying to fit in and be a part of what we've done here the past couple of years,” Flacco said. “However, I don't think it's a tough adjustment, and I don't think it's an unwanted adjustment. It's something that you need to embrace. The fact that Jim is a really good guy and has that attention to detail and really loves the game of football makes everything very easy, and you don't really think about it as an adjustment. You just take it for what it is and continue to do what you've been doing.”

Former NFL quarterback and current CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said Caldwell's low-key personality could be a good fit for Flacco. That opinion is based on what Esiason heard from his former college roommate at Maryland, Frank Reich, who followed Caldwell as quarterbacks coach with the Colts.

“This is not General Patton coaching you. This is not a guy who is going to act like he created the position of quarterback,” Esiason said. “He has a very soothing way about him. Not all quarterbacks coaches have the patience and the diligence and the history that Jim has with the position to sit there confidently and patiently and get the message across.”

Caldwell's personality is more similar to that of Jim Zorn, who coached Flacco in 2010, than to that of Hue Jackson, Flacco's position coach his rookie year. Flacco set several career highs under Zorn's tutelage: for yardage (3,622), pass efficiency rating (93.6) and touchdowns (25) while throwing for a career-low 10 interceptions. He also completed 62.6 percent of his passes, a shade below his career best. His numbers dropped in nearly every category last season, when he also fumbled a career-high nine times.

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