The dates for the Baltimore Ravens' offseason practices were announced Monday, but those aren't necessarily the most anticipated workouts this spring.
With an overhaul of the Ravens' wide receiver group, there's increased talk for quarterback Joe Flacco to organize extra throwing sessions with Michael Crabtree and John Brown. He has only scheduled "Camp Flacco" once in his 10-year NFL career, and it could be seen as a sign of commitment if he put together another one, considering his recent struggles and Baltimore's three-year playoff drought.
Coach John Harbaugh said at last week's league meetings that it was "critically important" for Flacco and his new receivers to build chemistry as quickly as possible.
"Look at the great passing games. It’s because they’re precise," Harbaugh said. "You can go back to Raymond Berry and Johnny [Unitas] in Baltimore. I mean, how hard did they work at it? Before practice, after practice, in the offseason -- we’ve heard all those stories. That’s what it takes. For Joe to have those guys and get with those guys and get great, that’s what we expect."
To improve the NFL's No. 29 passing game, Baltimore parted ways with its top two wide receivers (Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin) as well as its leading pass-catcher (tight end Benjamin Watson). There's only one player currently on the roster who caught more than 30 passes last season, and that's running back Buck Allen.
Flacco's top targets this season will likely end up being Crabtree, Brown, another veteran free agent, and highly drafted rookies at wide receiver and tight end.
On Twitter, Brown offered to stay with Flacco to get better acclimated. When he was with the Cardinals, Brown would stay at Carson Palmer's home in the offseason to put in additional work with his quarterback.
Don't worry joe where you stay at in the summer??? Carson Palmer taught me this https://t.co/U6ZP4g6QLR— Smokey Brown (@Jwalk_back12) March 30, 2018
The only known time Flacco got together with his receivers away from the team facility was in 2011, when he went out to Arizona for throwing sessions with Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Todd Heap and Dennis Pitta. It was intended to keep the passing game sharp in the midst of the NFL lockout.
The Ravens thought Flacco was going to set up more offsite practices in 2014, a year after he threw a career-worst 22 interceptions. But Flacco decided against it because there was a change of offensive coordinators (from Jim Caldwell to Gary Kubiak) and he didn't know the offense well enough to hold workouts on his own.
That shouldn't be a problem this year. Flacco has had Marty Mornhinweg as his offensive coordinator since October of the 2016 season.
Plus, this is an important year for Flacco. Baltimore is only financially committed to him through this season, and the team can create $18.5 million in cap space in 2019 by designating him as a post-June 1 cut.
It's unknown how much of these extra sessions really help. Peyton Manning, the NFL's career passing leader, held annual passing camps at Duke University. But Mark Sanchez did the same with Jets West, his annual practice sessions in California, and he was finished as the Jets' starer after four seasons.
The Ravens know first-hand how much it hurts a passing attack when there's not enough practice time. Last year, Flacco missed all of training camp and the preseason due to a herniated disc. That led to a slow start in which he threw 10 interceptions and posted a 72.7 passer rating (31st in the NFL) through the first nine weeks.
"We anticipate that Joe will be there all through training camp and all through [organized team activities] and all that," Harbaugh said. "And that’s something that hopefully takes place. You can’t predict the future. With those guys getting the reps and getting really good at what they do, and even beyond that, let’s go to work beyond practice and build that rapport."