By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun
9:05 PM EDT, July 27, 2011
When the Ravens open training camp Thursday, the offense will have a new look — and not just because tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason are gone.
Joe Flacco will walk onto the field with a swagger, based on his bold statements Wednesday.
The typically laid-back quarterback defiantly fired back at his critics, saying, "I'm pretty damn good." During the lockout, he's heard a player on another team talk about how he can't handle pressure and he's heard an NFL analyst question his work ethic.
After months of being an offseason punching bag, it was Flacco's turn to deliver the shots.
"I play this game to be the best and it doesn't matter what other people say," Flacco said. "I think I'm pretty damn good, and I don't need to go out and tell everybody that and show it on every given day, every play, every Sunday and do all that stuff. I go out there and I play."
Flacco added, "You can think what you want about me. The bottom line is, I'm still going to think the way the way I think about myself and I feel pretty good about myself no matter what you say. I would like some more people than myself to think good about me, but they never do, they never do."
Since starting immediately three years ago, Flacco has been "Joe Cool," a quarterback who plays with a low-key demeanor. He rarely yells when the game is going poorly. He rarely celebrates when the game is going well.
What changed Flacco was taking as much heat this offseason as he does against the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said Flacco will never win a Super Bowl "in this lifetime." Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones said Flacco will throw interceptions when pressured. And NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes said Flacco needs to work harder.
"We've had a good team the last three years and I think I've gotten better each year and played pretty darn good, so I don't understand it," Flacco said. "People are going to say what they're going to say. We've just got to go out there and win football games, continue to win football games really, because we've won football games every year here."
Heading into his fourth year, Flacco has proven to be one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.
He is just the third starting quarterback to reach the playoffs in his first three seasons since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. He is the sixth in NFL history to throw for 10,000 yards in his first three seasons. And his 35 wins are the second-most by a quarterback in his first three seasons in NFL history.
Those are impressive statistics, but Flacco realizes how quarterbacks are measured.
"The world we live in today, there's usually one good quarterback at the end of the year and 31 other not-good ones," he said. "My goal is to be that one good one at the end of the year."
It's been an offseason of change for Flacco. His quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn was fired after the season despite his protest. A few months later, he married his longtime girlfriend on June 25.
Then, as he was preparing to come to camp, he was told that his favorite receivers over the past three seasons were going to get cut.
"I had no idea anything like that was going to happen," Flacco said. "I hope we can go out there and operate no matter what."
Flacco would miss Heap and Mason in the end zone as much as the locker room.
During the Flacco era, Heap and Mason have combined for over half of the receiving touchdowns on the Ravens and have made 38 percent of the catches.
Ravens officials said they are interested in re-signing them, presumably at less-expensive deals. For the first practice of camp, tight end Ed Dickson will step into the starting lineup and rookie receiver Torrey Smith could do the same.
"If those guys [Heap and Mason] aren't there, it's because we are confident with the guys that we have," Flacco said. "I would say if they're not there, we know we have a great group of guys. If they are there, then we're only going to benefit from that."
Flacco understands he has to fill the leadership void. He welcomes the pressure.
"I want the ball to be put in my hands. I want to be in control," he said. "I want to be in position to lose football games. I've always said that. I want it to be on me. In order to do that, you got to have trust in me, and I think we're there."
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