Passing Camp, Not Just "Flacco Camp"

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It's obvious that quarterback Joe Flacco has matured greatly in only a year.

At this time in 2008, the Ravens were holding a three-day set of practices with only quarterbacks and wideouts. It was deemed "Flacco Camp" because the intention was to give the then-rookie a crash course in Baltimore's offense.

On Monday, the Ravens will conduct a similar passing camp, but this time, Flacco will be directing the way instead of simply following instructions.

As evidenced in last weekend's minicamp, Flacco is growing into his role as a leader. Quiet as his public persona may be, his teammates can sense a confident air about him on the field and in the locker room.

"He understands that he is the quarterback of our team," said linebacker Ray Lewis. "Just seeing the communication that he has with the guys, you see him. He's always trying to fix something, tweak something that the guy should be working on. That's the biggest thing. Joe is going to be Joe."

But the Joe most people knew when Baltimore selected him 18th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft - the timid newbie that didn't know his receivers, barely knew his coaches, and had a sparse knowledge of the playbook – is no more.

Now, Flacco chats with his targets after every play, making sure they are in perfect synch to get the most out of each snap. Flacco also keeps a steady dialogue with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson when he's not under center.

All are signs that the humble New Jersey native is at ease with the weight of the offense on his shoulders.

"You have a comfort level with all of your teammates, with all your coaches, with the offense," Flacco said. "Last year, I didn't know anything, I didn't know anybody. Now, coming out here I have that comfort, and it's a lot easier. Like I said, you're able to focus on different things. I'm able to see what I missed in the offense."

Flacco didn't miss much during those five practices last weekend.

He casually delivered pinpoint passes in each session, with footballs rarely hitting the turf. Flacco demonstrated his strong arm on multiple occasions, connecting with receivers for a few touchdowns of over 40 yards.

Perhaps more importantly, Flacco seemed more accurate on intermediate throws over the middle of the field, something that rookie signal-callers normally have trouble with in their first seasons.

"We've been working on some things for those two months just like you would any other player," Cameron noted. "Just continually grasping and understanding the offense, getting more familiar with the guys he's throwing to. We'll just let it evolve depending on the guys that he's around."

Head coach John Harbaugh pointed to Flacco's ability to handle the play clock, which was constantly ticking as soon as the previous play was whistled dead.

"Last year at this time, how many times did that buzzer go off? We couldn't get a play off," Harbaugh recalled. "I thought there were situations where guys didn't get lined up quite right or we didn't have the right personnel out there, but the quarterback was still able to manage the clock and get the play off on time. That's probably his biggest thing."

Regarding the playbook, Flacco said that he stripped down a lot of what he previously knew to start fresh this offseason.

That is why the upcoming passing camp – née Flacco Camp – is so critical. The Ravens have many new faces catching the ball with Derrick MasonMark Clayton and Demetrius Williams all currently sidelined due to injuries. That leaves Marcus Smith and Yamon Figurs as the only other two wideouts that regularly played or practiced with Flacco last year.

Baltimore will have multiple young receivers on Monday, led by 2008 draft pick Justin Harper and free agents Ernie WheelwrightEd Williams and Marcus Maxwell. In addition, multiple reports have linked the Ravens to veteran free agent Kelley Washington, who could join the team next week if he passes a physical.

The Ravens' offense doesn't stop there, however.

In addition to a healthy Todd Heap, Baltimore added talented tight end L.J. Smith as a threat in the passing game. The Ravens' trio of smash-mouth running backs returns with a full year of experience playing together. And, first-round draft pick Michael Oher marks another sound investment into the offensive line.

All in all, the Ravens are happy with their young and reloaded offense. It could be the perfect group for a young quarterback to lead.

"As you grow as an offense, I'm going to grow, they're going to grow, our offensive line is, and therefore we're going to become a better passing team," Flacco stated. "We had a pretty darn good team last year, and obviously it was with the guys we had, so we don't need anybody else.

"We feel like we have the guys to go get it done. We feel like we have the guys to run the field. So we've got to work hard now and make sure that we do all the right things building up to then and do that." 

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