Flacco gaining comfort level in new offense

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The most impressive part of the Baltimore Ravens' offseason practices has been the evolution of quarterback Joe Flacco in Gary Kubiak's offense.

Over the course of 13 practices that spanned four weeks, Flacco has gone from struggling with the new scheme to gaining a comfort level with it. A quarterback's effectiveness in practice can be judged by how many passes are hitting the ground. By the time the Ravens wrapped up mandatory minicamp Thursday, most of Flacco's incompletions came from receivers dropping passes.

"I've been able to get really, really comfortable and kind of just get back there, go through my reads, and have a lot of fun," Flacco said. "I think we look good; it's been a lot of fun. Like I said, I think everybody has put a lot of hard work in, and because of that we've been able to go out there and work on some of the little things and really get better."

This has been an offseason of adjustment for Flacco, who is just 16 months removed from being the Super Bowl MVP. It's a new playbook, new terminology and new drills.

Flacco has been asked to do things this year that he hasn't done on the Ravens practice field previously. There have been cone drills to help improve his footwork. There have been ball security drills where coaches have hit Flacco's hands with blocking pads. Fundamentals have been a major focus.

"At this stage, he's playing very well," coach John Harbaugh said. "I would love to see him against another defense today. If we were allowed to scrimmage somebody, we'd have a scrimmage out here and we'd know more, but he looks good."

Another change for Flacco has been the timing of the offense. Kubiak's scheme involves a good amount of play-action fakes and bootlegs. It also stresses shorter drops and quicker releases from quarterbacks.

"There's always a route somewhere that you can get the ball out to, and as a quarterback, you have to know when you have a problem and when you have to get it out," Flacco said. "I think that's the biggest thing with going through your progressions and having a set progression for this, for that. There's no real guesswork, there's no real gray area, and that allows you to get the ball out real quick."

The biggest hurdle for Flacco hasn't been in executing the offense. It's been communicating it.

This is the first time he's had to learn new terminology. When Jim Caldwell took over for Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator, there wasn't an overhaul of the system. With Kubiak in charge, it has been a different language for Flacco.

"The biggest thing is just getting the play from the coaches and going in there and making sure you spit it out right," Flacco said. "You can picture it in your mind, but it is a pretty wordy system at times, and you just have to make sure that you get it to your teammates in the right way so that you don't confuse anybody. There are times where that happens a little bit, but I think that all three of the quarterbacks have done a pretty good job of being on top of that stuff and having as little miscommunication as possible."

Flacco hasn't always been sharp in the offseason workouts. There have been times when his deep passes have fluttered in the air and his intermediate ones have been behind receivers. But what has stood out is that he understands where the ball is supposed to go.

No one is saying Flacco has mastered the offense. There are still going to be growing pains early in training camp and in the preseason. But the strides made in the offseason can be carried over when the Ravens reconvene for training camp in late July.

"Without this [offseason], we'd be starting from square one," Flacco said. "So, there's no doubt about it that these 13 practices have really helped us and are going to help us come training camp and give us a good kick start into that."