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Most Weapons Of Joe Flacco's Career? Maybe, But He Won't Say So


Ravens quarterback is slow-playing the potential of his offense.

Asked whether he has more weapons than ever at his disposal this year, Flacco said that has yet to be seen.

"We have to go out there and prove that we're weapons and that we can do it in live games on Sundays," Flacco said Wednesday. "I think it's a very promising group and I'm very excited about it, but we have to go out there and prove it."

On paper, Baltimore has great depth at wide receiver, running back and tight end. In no other year has there been as many possibilities for who could* *lead each skill position.

That adds a level of excitement to Baltimore's offense, but also some uncertainty.

"It is a pretty good problem to have," Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman said. "History is that it generally works its way out."

At wide receiver, Steve Smith Sr. is the returning leader, but he's also coming back from an Achilles tear. Aiken was the team's top receiver last year when thrust into the spotlight. Free-agent addition Mike Wallace has a track record of big plays and has shown a good connection with Flacco. Last year's first-round pick, Breshad Perriman, is finally healthy and is the most physically gifted of all.

At running back, Justin Forsett is the returning starter and is just two years removed from a Pro Bowl season. But the Ravens were also willing to take the risk of losing him when they cut him at the end of the preseason before bringing him back.

Terrance West was explosive at times during the preseason and Buck Allen proved he could be a starter last year after Forsett suffered a broken arm midway through the year. Rookie Kenneth Dixon led the team in rushing during the preseason and could end up being the go-to back once healthy.

The Ravens lost their starting tight end when Benjamin Watson suffered an Achilles tear in the preseason, but the team still has proven playmaker Dennis Pitta atop the depth chart. If he can stay healthy, Pitta could return to being one of Flacco's favorite targets.

Behind him is last year's starter, Crockett Gillmore, who showed flashes of being a bruising receiver when healthy, and last year's second-round pick, Maxx Williams, who set Ravens franchise records for production as a rookie tight end.

Add it all up, and the Ravens could be explosive on offense this year.

The Ravens aren't the only ones who see it. Asked Wednesday whether he wishes the Ravens had their 2016 offense to complement* *the defense he used to coach in Baltimore, Buffalo Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan laughed.

"No comment," he said. "I'm like c'mon, really dude? You pick up Wallace. That Pitta kid, I think they should rest him quite honestly. And I like number 11 [Aiken] too. I think he's a good player. Oh, and by the way, Joe Flacco is there."

Trestman, who has the job of pulling all the strings, can get even more creative this year. The way the Ravens handle the group could be specialization. Each player brings something different to the table, and Trestman can play off those strengths to draw up plays, or packages, for specific players.

For example, Smith and Aiken are the best route-runners at receiver and reliable chain-moving threats. Wallace and Perriman are deep threats. Pitta probably best stretches the deep middle of the field at tight end while Williams is good on shorter routes and Gillmore is a bull with the ball in his hands. At running back, Forsett has great vision, West has the best wiggle and Allen excels at catching the football.

"We could have different personnel groupings and different plays designed for different guys," Trestman said. "It could go into that kind of detail."

Smith had a veteran's outlook on the issue.

"Anybody can be a one-trick-pony or the main guy," he said. "But when you have other guys right there who, 'This guy can run a better route than this guy', you start to have packages where you know there are so many plays that are just mine.

"Then, you know you are going to get your plays, but you are also ecstatic to be able to clear it out and open it up for other guys. I go down and run a route to open it up for Mike, and Mike catches it, then I'm on the hunt. I get to peel back on somebody and knock the [expletive] out of them. That's what I'm really excited about; I can play my role for Mike and Mike can play his role."

Still, there is a natural desire for offensive playmakers to want the ball, and there's only one pigskin to go around.

"We all want catches and we all want to get in the rhythm of the game," Pitta said. "But there's a fine line between being a little bit of a diva about it and being a team player."

Wallace said he experienced a dip in targets last year in Minnesota, when he posted a career-low (tied) 39 receptions. He said he looks around the wide receivers room every day and marvels at how many starters are in the room, which makes him push harder.

"You've got to make more from less," Wallace said. "I think it's going to be great. We have a guy that's going to spread it around. I think it's all positive, personally."

Aiken could see the biggest dip in opportunities when compared to last year. After the onslaught of injuries, he became the main target and racked up 75 catches for 944 yards. Now there are a lot more mouths to feed.

"You've got to find some way to deal with it mentally," Aiken said. "You know it's going to change; numbers aren't going to be the same. It's just making the best of the plays you're given."

The place where the Ravens could have the most even distribution of work is at running back, where the team will employ the three-headed monster of Forsett, West and Allen to start the year before Dixon returns.

"We are very deep," Forsett said. "This is probably the most talented group that we have had since I have been here. We push each other and it is going to take all of us anyway, at the end of the day, to go out there and perform. I'm confident with all of us."

Flacco has done a good job over the years of keeping his running backs and targets involved, and now he'll have even more orchestrating to do as Baltimore finds out who its standouts will be, especially early in the year. Flacco always says he throws to who is open, but everybody thinks they're open.

"I think I have a good relationship with all of those guys," Flacco said. "They understand that it's about winning football and team football around here. They're all going to get their chances. Some games they might not get as many as others. One guy might stand out more than others. That's something you always deal with."

Pressed later about whether he was trying to downplay the arsenal around him this year, Flacco smiled.

"I think they're pretty good," he said.

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