A rare connection: Joe Flacco holds workouts at local park

"It was fun," new Ravens receiver Willie Snead said of getting some extra practice in with Joe Flacco, pictured, last week. "It was taking the stuff we did in OTAs and minicamp and put it all together out there on the field." Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are the first NFL team to open training camp this year, but quarterback Joe Flacco was on the field before the first full practice.

Flacco held a couple of private workouts with his wide receivers and tight ends last week at a local park across the street from the team's facility. Players aren't allowed to practice on the field at the Under Armour Performance Center until Thursday under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, so Flacco invited his teammates to catch passes a couple of times before camp started.

It marks the first time Flacco has organized private workouts with teammates since 2011. This comes after Baltimore added three free-agent receivers this offseason -- as well as a first-round quarterback in Lamar Jackson.

"It's building that relationship," said wide receiver Willie Snead, a free-agent addition from the New Orleans Saints. "We've only known each other for a few months. So that extra time is very beneficial, especially when we're trying to do something special this year."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome both publicly talked this offseason about the value of additional workouts and how they help a quarterback and his receivers mesh. Ravens fans also have been clamoring for Flacco to throw to his receivers beyond the team's practices.

Flacco said at minicamp that his teammates were eager for the extra throwing sessions.

It was important this year because of the new faces around Flacco. Baltimore brought in wide receivers Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown in free agency and drafted tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews.

There's also increased pressure on Flacco after the Ravens traded up in the first round to take Jackson. Nothing is guaranteed for Flacco beyond this season.

So, before his 11th training camp, Flacco invited teammates to Northwest Regional Park, where they surprised some boys playing football.

"It was fun," Snead said. "It was taking the stuff we did in OTAs and minicamp and put it all together out there on the field, just one-on-one with the quarterbacks. That type of time together is beneficial, just like later down the stretch in the season. It's just being on the same page with different routes and knowing the receiver and the quarterback and what he's thinking and what I'm thinking."

When Snead was in New Orleans, he said Drew Brees would get all of the receivers together for at least a week. Brees believed the extra work helped with timing.

The Ravens' passing game has not been compared to the Saints'. Baltimore ranked No. 29 in passing last season -- its worst showing since Kyle Boller was the quarterback in 2004. Flacco, who is scheduled to talk to reporters Friday, last season averaged 5.72 yards per attempt, which was his career worst as well as the worst in the NFL.

The only other 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, the offseason 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.

"It’s always good to work the precision of the passing game," Harbaugh said. "I think Joe really likes these guys, and these guys are champing at the bit."

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' starter after four seasons.

The Ravens know firsthand 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.

Snead believes the Ravens' passing game built momentum toward the end of the offseason and expects it to carry into training camp. Crabtree was making spectacular catches along the sideline, Brown was repeatedly making big plays downfield and Snead was continually getting open over the middle.

"To be honest, I think Joe has a lot of confidence in us," Snead said. "He’s excited about our group. He feels like he has a lot of weapons around him that he has at his disposal."