Flacco: 'I want to prove I'm the best'

OWINGS MILLS -- The football spun off Joe Flacco's fingertips and soared high into the air, spiraling nearly half the football field until it reached its intended target. As the Baltimore Ravens' prize rookie quarterback literally launched his pro football career with a deep pass to hit wide receiver Mark Clayton in stride, it was an impressive display of his legendary arm strength.

It was also treated routinely by Flacco during his inaugural NFL practice Friday as Baltimore began a mandatory minicamp at their training complex in a steady rainfall.

There was absolutely zero celebration from the first-round draft pick, just as there was no visible reaction from the former Delaware star when several of his bullet passes on shorter patterns ricocheted off his receivers' hands.

"I just move on to the next play," Flacco said while surrounded by reporters in the Ravens' locker room. "The last thing I'm thinking about is the play I just completed because I know this is a new offense or me and I'm worried about the next play and making sure I know what to do. And it has nothing to do with that play.

"Everybody's faster. The whole game is faster. Once you get comfortable with the offense, I think the game just naturally slows down for you."

Flacco's orientation to the NFL included overcoming his nerves while trading a few friendly jabs with middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

At one point, Flacco grabbed the football to go first in an agility drill. However, it was quickly taken away from him by tight end Todd Heap and Flacco retreated to the back of the line.

Flacco seemed eager to get the football in his hands at all times, even hurriedly brushing past Kyle Boller after one play to get under center as quickly as possible.

His new environment didn't seem to be too big for the New Jersey native after playing in the hinterlands of college football for the past few years after transferring from Pitt.

"He never changes his expression, I don't think," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Flacco. "He seemed calm. He has done a nice job the last couple of weeks getting in the notebook, so he was prepared.

'"No spoon feeding, we don't believe in spoon feeding. We throw it all at him, and he handled it well. He threw the ball well and operated the offense fine."

Flacco demonstrated sound footwork when he fired in a slant pass for a completion off a three-step drop after primarily operating out of the shotgun in college. Under a heavy pass rush in another sequence, he simply threw the ball out of bounds rather than force the action.

Although Flacco seemed poised in all situations, there was a natural tendency to gun too many throws.

At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, Flacco towered over the other quarterbacks. Especially former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.

"He throws the ball well, big kid, taller than I thought he was, and it's going to be a good competition for these guys," Heap said. "There's a time for a bullet and there's a time for a pass with touch, so those are the things that a young guy has to come in and learn."

Wearing a red No. 5 jersey, Flacco went about his work in a blue-collar manner.

True to the advance billing of his personality, Flacco was focused more on deeds than words.

"The one pass he threw to Mark, I think it was 50 yards down the field in the air, and he put it on target," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "The way he commanded the huddle, I think that speaks volumes about him. He's a big guy, he can throw the ball and he can put it on target.

"He seems like a pretty quiet guy. I'm pretty sure once he gets used to everybody, he'll be the same guy that he was at Delaware. He'll open up and start to laugh and chuckle it up with everybody else. Right now, he's just like any other rookie. He's trying to feel his way through."

Flacco's arm was described as the strongest of any incoming rookie, and it doesn't appear to be false advertising.

Just ask the receivers whose hands are stinging.

"He throws like Carson Palmer a little bit to me," cornerback Samari Rolle said.

As far as first impressions go, Flacco definitely received a passing grade.

There were very few obvious rookie moments.

"I'm a fan of Flacco's," Lewis said. "I've been messing around with him, and his personality is incredible. We'll find out, sooner or later, how good he's going to be as a quarterback."

With players scheduled to report to training camp July 21 in Westminster, it was a tad early to project how Flacco will fare in the quarterback derby with Boller and Smith.

"He looked comfortable out there," Clayton said. "From my standpoint, we have three really good quarterbacks that can make all the throws. Long, short, touch, medium, power, they're all capable. I'm happy we have those three guys competing for the starting job here."

One challenge for Flacco involved not being awed by the elite players across the line of scrimmage. Especially Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"There's guys out there I've been watching on TV for who knows how many years now, and they're getting after it," Flacco said. "This is football at a high level. You know that coming in, but you don't know what level it is. To go out there, get the first practice out of the way and really find out what it's about was really fun.

"Yeah, it's definitely different to see Ray Lewis come into the locker room and be on your team. I'll get used to that, but I don't know if I am right now. He was just joking around with me, telling me he was going to get a pick off of me, all those kind of things. We'll see."

For Flacco, the competition for the starting job against Boller and Smith will truly begin at McDaniel College.

At this stage of the offseason, the focus for the 23-year-old remains on learning offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's ultra-thick playbook and adjusting to the heightened speed of the game.

"I'm not worried about anybody else," Flacco said. "Through a competition even, you're not worried about what the other guys are doing. You're worried about going out there and playing your best football.

"I want to try to prove that I'm the best quarterback, but we have two great quarterbacks here. I have confidence in my ability. I've got a lot of learning to do. After being here for a day, I can see that."

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

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