Flacco Named Season Starter

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Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will be the starter indefinitely, even now that Troy Smith is fully participating in practice.

Many have speculated that Smith would challenge for the first string after recovering from a tonsil infection that sidelined him for one month, but that is not the case.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, Smith will be Baltimore's third quarterback this weekend against the Indianapolis Colts, and then will be given the opportunity to compete with Todd Bouman for the backup role.

The announcement doesn't change much of what the rookie Flacco does each week. The 18th-overall draft pick treats every game like he's the starter, which has been his mindset since draft day..

"That's the way I've been approaching it," Flacco said. "It's just a good opportunity for us to go out there and me to go out there as the quarterback and do as much as I can do to help this team win. [I try to] get better each week, play better each week and go out there and help this team win."

Smith was cleared to practice Sept. 24 after being diagnosed with his infection Aug. 21, one day before he was scheduled to start a preseason game against the St. Louis Rams.

Soon after, he lost a great deal of strength and over 20 pounds because of the illness, as Flacco went on to establish himself as a legitimate starter in the NFL.

Now, Smith will attempt to earn the No. 2 spot and perhaps get on the field as a multi-use playmaker.

"Troy is working full-speed ahead as a healthy quarterback this week, really for the first time, which is exciting and great news for us," Harbaugh said Wednesday. "He adds to our team. He strengthens us.

"He's working hard to expand his role, regain his proficiency and build from there. [He will] work his way potentially into the backup role, and that will be his role this year. Possibly in a role where he can contribute playing quarterback for us down the road, but that all remains to be seen by game play."

In leading the Ravens to a 2-2 record, Flacco has completed 58.5 percent of his passes (62 of 106) for 603 yards and one touchdown.

He also rushed for a 38-yard touchdown in a career-opening win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

But, there have also been mistakes any rookie signal-caller must endure through his development.

Last week in a 13-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Flacco tossed two interceptions (a third was overturned by a successful Harbaugh challenge) in key situations. One came deep in Ravens territory that led to a Titans field goal. The other was on a potential game-saving drive late in the fourth quarter.

Despite the errant tosses, Flacco's teammates stand confidently behind him.

"Joe, the previous week [at Pittsburgh], he made some great plays rolling outside the pocket, and even in the first two weeks," said wideout Derrick Mason, Baltimore's leading receiver with 21 catches for 261 yards. "Sometimes, you're going to hit them. Sometimes, you're going to miss them.

"But Joe has a good track record because he's hit more than he missed. So, 'Continue to play, Joe.'"

Flacco has been a supporter of playing since Day One, mainly because of situations such as this. He maintains that he needs game experience to mature into the quarterback the Ravens expected when they plucked him out of FCS Delaware.

"The final drive at the end of the game, obviously, I just made a bad decision outside of the pocket and didn't give us a chance to go down there and get a field goal or put the ball in the end zone," Flacco said. "You've just got to learn to throw the ball away, which I should already know.

"I guess it always helps when you actually experience it and you have to deal with that. There are a lot of things you can learn."

Flacco's counterpart this weekend agrees.

"The only way I learned that is to be in there playing, in my opinion," said Indianapolis' Peyton Manning. "It definitely served me well in my second year [because] we turned things around pretty quickly, going from 3-13 to 13-3, and I certainly felt much more comfortable as a quarterback."

As Flacco continues through the season, the Ravens know he's going to have the ups and downs that come with being a rookie.

How he deals with the downs will go a long way towards shedding the "rookie" label constantly associated with his name.

"We don't look at him right now as a rookie quarterback," Harbaugh said. "I know he's got this label, 'Look, rookie quarterback.' Joe is our quarterback, and Joe has got to do the things that any quarterback needs to do to win games. And, he's capable of doing that."

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