Been reluctant to tell this behind-the-scenes story for a number of reasons, but since some media have heard about Joe Flacco's private pre-draft workout for the Ravens, I'll share what I know.
Director of college scouting Eric DeCosta took offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson and George Kokinis, the Ravens' director of pro personnel, to Delaware to work Flacco out last March. The day was cold, drizzly, and it was windy.
Flacco came prepared. He met the Ravens' quartet at the field. Joe brought a bag of footballs and a few of his Delaware receivers. Wanting to make Flacco uncomfortable and to further test him, the Ravens brought brand new, slick NFL balls and invited 3 other collegiate receivers they wanted to work out to the Delaware campus.
"Joe was Joe," DeCosta said. "He didn't bat an eye when we told him that we wanted him to throw our balls and to these new receivers. He just kind of smiled and said something like, 'Where do you want me to start?'"
"Cam and Hue really put Joe through the paces," DeCosta remembered. "They made Joe think, asked him to try different mechanics and made him go at a very crisp tempo. The field was muddy, and there were no yard lines, so we used cones to designate certain yardage."
During the workout, which had Joe throw approximately 150 balls, "five, maybe six balls hit the ground," according to DeCosta.
5 INCOMPLETIONS OUT OF 150!
Baltimore's evaluators were stunned.
"We saw all the things we're seeing today," Jackson described. "His arm was alive. He showed athleticism. He showed a willingness to learn – and learn fast. The accuracy was something else. And, we saw a fire. He was competing against us in those drills. He wanted to beat whatever we were throwing at him."
"We didn't say a word to each other after thanking Joe and the receivers for the workout," Cameron explained. "I had the sense that we (the Ravens' group) purposely avoided each others' eyes. I know what I wanted to say: 'Do you believe what we just watched?' But, in an evaluating situation like that, you don't want to say anything that can be heard by anyone. I've learned that much about these workouts."
DeCosta added: "You never know who might hear you. It could be a coach from Delaware, a grounds crew guy, a driver for a car – anyone. There were about 20-25 people at the workout: Some Delaware coaches, a reporter, his agent and Joe's Dad.
"Heck, we try to get information on the other end. We're asking everyone there what other NFL teams Joe was throwing for; did you hear anything they said about the workout," DeCosta explained.
"It was the most unique workout I've ever witnessed," claimed Cameron. "I mean, it was windy. He was using new balls. Parts of the field were under construction. There were little red flags and dirt showing. Joe didn't know the receivers. We were trying to confuse him, really test him. He hit the receiver every time. He was quick with the release. He showed excellent feet. In fact, take a look at his feet. They're small for a man over 6-6. I think that helps his agility.
"When we were finished with Joe, we walked back to our cars in silence," Cameron continued. "It was there that we all looked at each other and kind of said the same thing: 'Do you believe what we just saw?'"
All were in agreement. This kid, this quarterback from Delaware, looked like something special.
That's the question being asked around the NFL right now: "Is this Flacco kid special?" Well, he has played 9 NFL games. In his last 4 games – all Ravens wins, with 3 coming on the road – Joe has completed 61 of 99 passes (61.6%) for 805 yards with 6 touchdown passes and no interceptions. That all adds up to a QB rating of 107.5 in that span. Only Arizona's Kurt Warner, who is a legitimate MVP candidate this season, and Houston's Matt Schaub, currently injured, have higher QB ratings than Joe since Oct. 19. And Warner (112.7) and Schaub (121.4) have played just 3 games during this period.
Flacco has thrown 112 passes in a row without an interception. That's the 3rd-best mark in Ravens history. Eric Zeier, with 175, and Steve McNair, with 162, produced longer streaks.
Special? Time will tell. But, man, he sure is handling everything pretty well right now. I can't wait to see more, including tomorrow at windy Giants Stadium against the superb defense from the defending Super Bowl champions.
Following our 41-13 victory at Houston last Sunday, I expected to find a giddy, pumped up locker room filled with loud cheers and proclamations. There was none of that. It was subdued. Since coach John Harbaugh had given the players the previous Monday off, I thought for sure I would hear chants of "Monday off, Monday off" from the players. That didn't happen.
And, there were no groans from players when Coach Harbaugh stated: "Regular Monday tomorrow. We all know what we have this week. Let's go to work."
Not sure how that immediate air of seriousness after a key win will translate into what happens against the Giants, but I do believe we are prepared to play well and the focus to this task at hand – beating the reigning Super Bowl champs at their place – is very good.
Each week, Pat Kirwan, a former NFL coach who now hosts a satellite radio show and writes for NFL.com, salutes a couple of "Unsung Heroes" around the NFL. Among the small group he selected 2 weeks ago is John Matsko, the Ravens' offensive line coach.
Here's what Kirwin wrote about Matsko: "Matsko came to the Ravens as they lost Jonathan Ogden to retirement, and the team was going with a rookie quarterback. This is a formula for disaster. Matsko leaned on his 17 years of NFL line coaching experience to help build a new line in Baltimore. This week, in the 29-10 win over the Raiders, young Joe Flacco wasn't sacked, and the Ravens ran the ball for 192 yards. Baltimore is a surprise to many, and Matsko's offensive line has something to do with it."
When Adam Terry, who began the season at right tackle before hurting his knee and having surgery, is in as the starter, the Ravens have the youngest line in the NFL. Terry, a 2nd-round selection, is back now and is in his 4th season. Left tackle Jared Gaither, who should be a senior at Maryland, is a 2-year vet. (And did any of you notice the job Jared did on the Texans' great DE Mario Williams last Sunday? Or, maybe you noticed that Williams' name was not called out by the play-by-play teams very often, if at all.)
Jason Brown is the old man of the group. Like Terry, he's a 4th-year player, taken in the 4th round in 2005. Left guard Ben Grubbs was our 1st pick a year ago, while RG Chris Chester was the Ravens' 2nd choice in 2006. Marshal Yanda started the season at RG before having a season-ending knee injury against Indianapolis. Yanda was a 3rd-round selection a year ago.
This young group is playing very well right now and could evolve into one of the NFL's best in coming seasons.
Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is a big baseball fan and was an outstanding player in his youth. In fact, Rex still plays in an old-man's baseball league in the summer.
Rex uses his love of baseball to salute and inspire his defense. "We want 'Ks,'" Rex says.
What are those? In baseball, a strikeout is marked in the scorebook by the letter "K." Rex explains: "Three strikes and you're out. That's what we want every time our defense takes the field: three plays and they're off the field. We talk about getting as many 'Ks' as we can, and leading the NFL in three-and-outs."
Well, so far, so good. Baltimore's defense has produced an NFL-high 36 "3-and-outs" this season, forcing opponents off the field in 3 plays in 36 of 107 series. Additionally – and this is impressive – on these 107 opposing series, the Ravens have allowed just 11 drives of 10 plays or more. Of those, just 3 ended up in touchdowns, 6 netted field goals and 2 got zip.
Would love to see a lot of 3-and-outs from Eli Manning and Brandon Jacobs and those big, bad Giants tomorrow. Hope so. Off to the Meadowlands. Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne is the Ravens' Senior Vice President – Public and Community Relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.