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Late For Work 4/7: Joe Flacco's First Reaction To Infusion Of New Offensive Weapons


*Flacco's First Reaction To Infusion Of New Weapons *

Ravens brass have HOOKED UP Joe Flacco this offseason, and you can consider the seventh-year quarterback a happy man.

A total of seven Pro Bowl seasons were added to the receiving corps with the signings of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. The team locked up Dennis Pitta, who is now healthy and Flacco's favorite target. Flacco's blindside will be protected with the re-signing of Eugene Monroe, and he got a new center in veteran Jeremy Zuttah.

"No doubt about it, these guys are some explosive players," Flacco told The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson in his first interview since the season ended. "These guys are going to do nothing but help. They're proven players from across the league, and it will be interesting to see how they come in and fit in and help us out."

After throwing a career-high 22 interceptions last season and being taken down for a career-high 48 sacks, it's easy to see why Flacco is pumped. The team finished with an 8-8 record, and it missed the playoffs for the first time since Flacco entered the league.      

He's ready for a fresh start.

"It's a new year, a new beginning and a chance to do new things," Flacco said. "I'm always excited. I think we've got a good team and an offense that can put up some numbers. So it's just on us to do it."

With Flacco's improved arsenal of weapons, ESPN's Jamison Hensley believes that breaking the 4,000-yards barrier is a reasonable expectation – something Flacco has never done in his six NFL seasons. Hensley also sees 30 touchdown passes as a possibility. The most Flacco's ever thrown is 25 in 2010.

"Flacco can go deep to Torrey Smith, hit Steve Smith on a comeback route and connect with Daniels and Dennis Pitta over the middle. Everywhere Flacco looks, there is a playmaker who is experienced and dependable," Hensley wrote.

"Along with the Ravens' Big Four (Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Pitta and Daniels), they still bring back a big-play receiver in Jones and a red zone threat in Brown. When you look at the big picture, the Ravens have a blend of speed, size, big-game experience and dependable hands. Defenses are no longer going to be able to just bracket Torrey Smith or play a run defense on first and second downs against the Ravens." 

Not only does Flacco have the targets and improved line (which could still be improved by the draft), but he has a brand new offensive coordinator with a proven track record.

Gary Kubiak oversaw offenses that ranked in the NFL's top 10 in four of the past six years with the Texans. He recently finished up the Ravens' new offensive playbook and sent it out to his players, including Flacco.

The system is brand new to Flacco, and he likes what he sees. He has met with Kubiak, but the two aren't allowed to talk football yet, per rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. He looks forward to getting with Kubiak in the coming months to gain guidance and direction.

"I like it so far," Flacco said of the playbook. "I'm just trying to grasp as much of it as I can before I get back and we really start going through it together. That's when I'll really start to understand it a little bit better.

"We're going to grow our relationship in the meeting rooms as we get this offense where we want it. Right now, we're just early on, and I've heard nothing but good things. I had a really good conversation with Gary, and I'm really excited about it."

Watch: First Look At Ray Rice Since Legal Woes

Running back Ray Rice hasn't been seen or heard from since he was arrested on charges of aggravated assault to his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City casino.

Rice still hasn't spoken publicly – likely at the advice of his lawyer for legal reasons – but we now have a snippet of video. Trainer Kyle Jakobe posted a brief Instagram clip of Rice working out with Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is a Maryland native.

"Got that early morning work today w/ Ray Rice and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Hands down two of my all-time favorite people. #ravens #steelers #rayrice#heywardbey," Jakobe wrote to introduce the video below (mobile user tap "View in Browser" at the top of the page to view).

With just a few seconds of footage, it's tough to get a feel for Rice's speed and explosiveness, which diminished in 2013 season due to a hip injury. But he does look healthy, and seems to make cuts with ease.

There have been reports that Rice has lost a bit of weight since the season. He weighed approximately 225 pounds when the season ended, and Jakobe told The Sun that Rice has lost 15 pounds.

"Ray's body composition has completely changed since the end of the season," Jakobe said on March 15. "He has lost 12 to 13 pounds, 12 to 13 bad pounds, and essentially replaced a lot of that body composition with lean muscle. You can see the difference in his face and his body. He has cut down his weight and you can see it in how he moves. He's added lean muscle. Outside of the eyeball test, Ray has looked explosive and is cutting on a dime."

Justin Forsett Is Insurance Policy For Draft

The Ravens added running back Justin Forsett Friday afternoon, giving themselves an insurance policy in case Rice is suspended for any period of time in 2014 and/or backup running back Bernard Pierce isn't fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.

But Hensley sees Forsett more as an insurance policy for the NFL draft, and doesn't believe the Ravens really want to use him as the No. 3 back.

"When the Ravens passed on the likes of free agents LeGarrette Blount and Knowshon Moreno, I believe it increased the chances of the team taking a running back in the draft," Hensley wrote. "Now, with the addition of Forsett, it makes it very likely that the Ravens will look at running backs starting in the third round.

"The Ravens signed Forsett just in case they don't take a running back in the draft. General Manager Ozzie Newsome never wants to be in a situation where he is forced to reach for a player because of need." 

Kiper's Three-Round Draft Predictions … Take RB In Round 3

Well, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper and Hensley are on the same page about the Ravens using the third round to take a running back.

Kiper gave his three-round draft predictions for each of the 32 NFL teams, and he has changed his thoughts about wide receiver for the Ravens. He doesn't have the team selecting a wide receiver with their first four picks.

Here's what he thinks could happen:

Round 1 (17) OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Round 2 (48) S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
Round 3 (79) RB Dri Archer, Kent St.
Round 3 (99) TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame (Comp)

"The addition of Steve Smith shifts my priority a little here," Kiper wrote. "Initially, Brandin Cooks would have seemed like an ideal fit, but it's a deep draft at the skill positions on offense, and I'm going to address a pretty significant need at tackle, where Ricky Wagner would be starting on the right side if the season started tomorrow. Martin, who was solid at left tackle for the Irish, can play early.

"I get the free safety I need in Round 2, where Ward is a steal. I look for an explosive playmaker in Round 3. Archer adds another dimension to the offense -- he's a Darren Sproles-type. In Round 3, I'm adding a tight end in Niklas after Jordan Tripp comes off the board with Denver a few picks earlier."

Ravens Make Case For Top TE Tandem

With Owens teaming up with Pitta, Hensley believes the Ravens can now make a case for the NFL’s top TE tandem.

Also in the running for that distinction are:

Indianapolis Colts: Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen 
Denver Broncos: Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme
Cincinnati Bengals: Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert

The last time both Pitta and Daniels were both healthy in 2012, they each topped 60 catches and five touchdowns. That puts them in a reasonable target of 100 combined catches in 2014.  Only the New Orleans Saints topped that mark last year, with Jimmy Graham nabbing 86 passes.

Marcus Spears Thanks Ravens Fans

Although he didn't officially announce his retirement, it looks as though former Raven Marcus Spears is indeed saying goodbye to his NFL career.

Spears announced on Twitter that he will join the SEC Network this fall as an analyst, and thanked Ravens fans for their support.

The defensive lineman only played in Baltimore for five games last season as things didn't work out as expected after he signed a two-year deal with the team. Spears spent eight years as a Dallas Cowboy, but he didn't forget about his time with the Ravens as he starts a new chapter in his life.

"To Ravens fans thanks for accepting me as one of the guys and teaching me the #Ravennation culture and feeding me the best crab cakes ever," he tweeted. "Thank you to] the fans!! Thank you thank you thank you God bless you all and every [now] and then flip over to the @SECNetwork and [check me out."

Quick Hits

Proud to be officially accepted to #BallSoHardUniversity #Ravens — Owen Daniels (@owendaniels) April 4, 2014

• Torrey Jr. and Sr. selfie

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