When attempting to explain the Ravens' goals for the 2009 season, second-year quarterback Joe Flacco summed it up in his typical, succinct style.
"We're ready to get in there, work hard and add one more win on top of last year," Flacco told Dana Jacobson of ESPN's First Take last week.
That "one win" refers to the AFC Championship Game, which the Ravens lost 23-14 to the eventual World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers last January. Still, being one game away from the Super Bowl is rarified air for rookie quarterbacks, and the expectations that have emerged as a result this season are not lost on Flacco.
Which isn't to say the young gun-slinger isn't ready for the challenge.
"I know as long as I go out there and do my thing, and we play the way we're supposed to, then I'm going to have a great season," Flacco said in the phone interview. "Our team's going to have a great season."
Flacco says he has been more confident in offseason minicamps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and has thus been more confident heading into his sophomore season. Part of it stems from knowing he's already the starter come Week 1. Flacco has also seen marked improvement throughout the offseason.
Instead of focusing on running a play, which is what Flacco had to focus on last year, the offense can now focus on running a play as efficiently as possible. They're focused on how to attack different defenses.
Additionally, Flacco believes in his teammates, and doesn't believe they'll take a step back in 2009.
"If we don't do better, then it's our own fault," Flacco noted. "It's because we played bad on Sundays, and I don't think we're going to do that."
The sophomore QB pointed to how the offensive line has improved with the addition of Michael Oher, and how he doesn't expect the defense to miss a beat in 2009 either, despite losing several players to free agency and their defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, to the New York Jets.
"We've got all kinds of guys who we lost," Flacco said, "who were big parts of our defense, and they're going to go somewhere else and be great players for their defenses, but I think we have the guys who are going to replace them. Our defense has been good for many years, through a couple of different defensive coordinators [and] through all kinds of defensive changes."
Many of Flacco's coaches and teammates, including John Harbaugh, Ray Lewis, Mark Clayton, Todd Heap*and Trevor Pryce* have all commented on how much the former Blue Hen is improving. Even dating back to last season, Flacco showed how fast he learns on the field.
In the first eight games of 2008, Flacco threw for 1,216 yards, three touchdowns and eight interceptions. In the second half of the season, he threw for 1,755 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. His final passer rating for the season was 80.3.
Flacco also made his mark when he became the first rookie quarterback in league history to win two playoff games. He capped off his memorable rookie campaign with the Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award for 2008.
"I just sense that the guy who's a year more mature, a year more familiar with what he's doing, guys know what he's about," said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron during a minicamp this offseason. "I think he understands that you've got to let your leadership flow naturally, not force it."
With Training Camp rapidly approaching, the discussions concerning Flacco's second year aren't likely to go away anytime soon. But then again, neither is Flacco's demeanor concerning those expectations.