Flacco hungry for starting job

OWINGS MILLS -- As Joe Flacco arrived at the Baltimore Ravens' headquarters in a shiny, black Cadillac Escalade, the towering former Delaware quarterback brought more than his overjoyed family and girlfriend to his new job.

The strong-armed first-round draft pick's inventory also included a sizable chip on his shoulder, courtesy of Pitt never giving him a honest crack at a starting job and critics skeptical about his small-school background.

"I still carry that with me, that I'm a I-AA guy and had to go down to the minor leagues of college football and prove who I was," Flacco said Sunday during an introductory press conference. "I'm going to carry that with me for the rest of my life, and hopefully use it for the best."

The Ravens are banking on Flacco revitalizing their dormant passing game, and proved how much they believe in him by trading up eight spots in the first round to pick him 18th overall after initially retreating in the round when they were unable to land Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan.

"I know the way Joe feels, that he will measure up to all the other first-round picks we've had here," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, Flacco is so tall that when he held up his jersey during a photograph session it obscured the view of Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

Based on Flacco's eye-catching arm strength as he can hurl a spiral 75 yards, surprising athleticism, elite size and willingness to learn, the Ravens are hoping for an abbreviated learning curve.

Flacco didn't hesitate when asked whether he believed he could immediately become a starter as he enters a quarterback derby with Kyle Boller and Troy Smith.

"Yes," Flacco said. "I am anxious to get in here and start learning, and I want to get out on the field to prove that I can. It's going to be up to the coaches to make that final decision, but it's going to be up to me to prove to them that I am ready.

Besides flashing intensity and hunger as he recalled his journey to make it to the NFL, the Audubon, N.J. native displayed a quick sense of humor.

Flacco is over a foot taller than many of his siblings and seven inches taller than his father. And when asked where his height comes from, Flacco quipped: "I have no idea. My dad says the milkman."

Apparently, Flacco never went through an awkward phase as he experienced a growth spurt that took him from a 5-foot-11 eighth grader to being a 6-4, 165-pound sophomore.

"I had no idea he was going to be as big as he is," said Stephen Flacco, Flacco's father, who played football and baseball at the University of Pennsylvania. "Obviously, you can see my wife and I aren't tall. To my Italian relatives, I'm a monster, but I'm only 5-11.

"At some point, he wanted to stop growing, saying, 'I don't want to be dorky.' He topped out at 6-6 going into his senior year. He finally leveled off and grew a quarter of an inch after he went to college."

Flacco grew up in South Jersey excelling in football, basketball and baseball, setting a single-game record with 471 passing yards, leading his baseball team to the state title and making the honor roll. He threw for 5,137 career yards as a three-year starter, including 2,020 as a senior.

"He was very athletic, he was a great shooter in basketball and also a very good baseball player," Stephen Flacco said. "About midway through high school, I think he realized that he really loved playing quarterback and would to try to concentrate on that."

Flacco describes himself as having a low-key personality, preferring to lead by example. His father noted virtually no hobbies, describing a childhood consumed by football, basketball, baseball and his studies.

"He's not a guy who's going to get very excited," Stephen Flacco said. "He's never outgoing. He's a pretty quiet person."

Underneath that reticent persona, it still bothers Flacco that he didn't get to compete at Pitt with incumbent Tyler Palko, a Western Pennsylvania native. That prompted him to transfer to Delaware, and that wound hasn't entirely healed.

"He talks about having a chip on his shoulder, for sure," Stephen Flacco said. "Now, the chip is, 'Hey, I'm a small-school guy. I'm going to show you.'"

Although Flacco proved his mettle against schools like Towson, Rhode Island and during an epic performance against the Naval Academy rather than the superpowers of college football, it's hard to take issue with his productivity for the Fightin' Blue Hens.

In leading Delaware to the national championship game, he totaled 7,046 career yards, 41 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while completing 63.4 percent of his throws.

Now, the challenge increases ten-fold.

"I think everybody has to make an adjustment, no matter what level of college football they were playing," Flacco said. "I think I'm just as prepared as anybody else. I have confidence in my ability. It's not about talking about it. It's about going out there and proving it."

Flacco's confidence is shared by the Ravens, who proved that belief by sending their 26th overall selection of the first round, a third-round pick and a sixth-round selection to the Houston Texans.

"He's a perfect fit for what we want to do," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Here's a guy that has a gift to throw the football, a gift for throwing it quickly and accurately. This kid is going to develop and get better and better."

Prior to Flacco's official visit to the Ravens' training complex, Cameron sent Flacco a sampling of the playbook to absorb and he quickly assimilated the information.

An accounting major, Flacco also displayed how coachable he was during his private workout in front of the Ravens' brass on the Delaware campus. After watching him throw for roughly 20 minutes, Cameron and quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson asked Flacco to alter a few dropback techniques.

"I've been around some guys you just kind of describe it, and then some guys can never do it," Cameron said. "I thought it was kind of neat that he picked up on it quickly. Sometimes, when you get a guy like that he can be special."

Although Flacco operated primarily out of the shotgun in directing Delaware's wide-open spread offense, he does have some experience dropping back from under center.

"We were looking for a guy that can function in the shotgun," Cameron said.

The Ravens have no reservations about Flacco's intellect or his ability to move despite most tall quarterbacks having trouble lowering their center of gravity.

"This guy, he's bright, and football makes sense to him," Cameron said. "In our system, we'd like our quarterback to have nimble feet, have an explosive arm and be quick with the football I actually think Joe has that."

Cameron emphasized that he will be the primary voice in Flacco's helmet during his rookie season with Jackson playing a secondary role in developing the 23-year-old.

A major part of Flacco's transition will be adjusting to the increased pace of the NFL.

"It's just the speed of the game, and that's why we're looking for a quick-twitch guy," Cameron said. "He's been blessed with that. He's quick with his arm and he's quick for a tall guy. Big, tall people who are quick and explosive don't come around every day."

The Ravens made Flacco the highest-drafted quarterback in franchise history, eclipsing Boller as he went 19th overall in the 2003 draft.

He's also the lone Delaware player to go in the first round ever.

"I grew up thinking I was going to play in the NFL," Flacco said. "The dream just never died for me."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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