Is Joe Flacco in Store for a Career Year? His Teammates Think So


While much of the media buzz at the start of Ravens training camp is about first-round rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, there's a different vibe inside the Under Armour Performance Center.

Yes, the Ravens are of course excited about the highlight-reel possibilities Jackson brings. But Joe Flacco is the Ravens' starter, and everyone knows the team's 2018 fortunes rest largely on his big right arm.

While Flacco's stats haven't been pretty the past three years, his teammates expect a big rebound this season.

"I expect Joe to have a career year this year, and for him to lead our team into the playoffs," safety Eric Weddle said Friday.

There's a wave of momentum behind Flacco this season. First and foremost, he's healthy. In 2016, Flacco was coming off a season-ending knee injury. He still threw for a career-high 4,317 yards, but he also tossed 15 interceptions (the second-most of his career).

Last offseason, Flacco injured his back just before the start of training camp, which meant he didn't see the field until the week before the Ravens' regular-season opener. He wasn't healthy for pretty much the first half of the season and Baltimore's offense was basically (and out of sync) because of it.

Once Flacco got healthy, he and the offense turned it on in the second half. Over the final seven games, only two offenses scored more points than the Ravens.

The biggest change at Ravens training camp this year is simply the presence of Flacco. He has been moving and throwing well throughout the summer.

Another reason why Flacco could have a major bounce back is because of the improved weapons around him. The trio of Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV – all added via free agency this year – may be the best he's had in his career.

Add in rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst (first round) and Mark Andrews (third round), and Flacco won't lack targets to throw to this season. Baltimore's front office hadn't invested that much attention into improving Flacco's pass-catchers since he was first drafted in 2008.

"I think it's the weapons around him [that help] make him a great quarterback," Snead said. "I think that's all he needed – weapons. I think it's all on him now to be able to make those plays, which I know he can."

Flacco is putting in the work to get on the same page with his new receivers. He returned to Baltimore early before training camp to hold a two-day passing camp at a park across the street from the team facility, which he used to continue to help sharpen their timing, but also to just bond as teammates.

Once the Ravens started 11-on-11 drills during Friday's practice, Flacco went onto a separate field with Crabtree, Brown and Snead to work more on different routes.

"I think he has a lot of confidence in our group," Snead said. "He's excited about our group – even the tight ends. He just has a lot of confidence. He feels like he has a lot of weapons around him he can use at his disposal."

The other part of Flacco's possible resurgence is his attitude. There's been a lot of chatter about whether Flacco has had a fire lit under him this offseason after the Ravens selected Jackson in the first round.

The even-keeled Flacco doesn't seem all that outwardly different, but his head coach and some of his teammates have certainly noticed that he's dialed in.

"He does seem charged up, I guess," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Joe's pretty even-keeled, but I do see excitement. I think he's excited. He does seem to like his receivers, and I think he's very motivated and wants to go to work."

Running back Alex Collins said Flacco has always had a lot of personality, but added that he "had a lot of fire behind him" this year, which is motivating the offensive players around him. Even linebacker C.J. Mosley, who is on the other side of the ball, notices it.

"I think every year he comes in with his mindset that he wants to be great, mainly because everybody outside of this building doesn't think he's elite, and inside the building everybody does think that way," Mosley said.

"So, I think every year he has a point to prove and even more so this year. We bring three quarterbacks in, drafted a first-round quarterback. It lets them know that in the NFL, at some point in time, people are looking to replace you, and that's just the nature of the game. Since Joe's been here, he's one of the players to never get rattled."

Flacco shrugged off the notion that he's any different this year. The notion that he's more fired up now implies that he hasn't been locked in before.

"I think you guys will probably link it to Lamar anyway," Flacco said with a grin, adding that people's perception of him often isn't accurate.

Of course Flacco felt something when the Ravens drafted Jackson in the first round. But it's not something he's thinking about all the time now. Asked Friday whether he anticipates getting tired of hearing questions about Jackson week after week, Flacco shook his head.

"No I don't, because I think we're going to win and we're not going to hear about it," Flacco said.

The Ravens were the first team to report to training camp, and they had nearly the entire team in attendance.

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