Joe Flacco took a couple of steps to his right, spotted Ed Dickson about 10 yards down the field and lofted a pass between two defenders that the young tight end hauled in.
After Dickson was touched down and the Ravens' offense retreated back to the line of scrimmage, Flacco yelled out a play that ended with his other primary tight end, Dennis Pitta, making a catch along the left sideline.
Flacco wore a red jersey, black gym shorts and no shoulder pads, and his notoriously calm demeanor, which earned him the nickname "Joe Cool," was even more casual than usual. But that doesn't mean the first week of organized team activities doesn't carry significance for the fifth-year quarterback, who led an offense that didn't include its most productive player from last season but did contain plenty of new faces.
"It's good for me to be here because I'm the one that needs to make those guys go," Flacco said after the workout at the Ravens' team facility in Owings Mills. "I'm the one that needs to make our offense go and bring those guys along as fast as we can. For them to have me here throwing to them and seeing what I go through, I think it's going to be a help for us."
Much of the talk Wednesday was on who wasn't at the voluntary session, the first of three OTAs before the Ravens' mandatory veteran minicamp begins June 12. The four biggest names on defense — inside linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata — were not present. Veteran center Matt Birk and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, who is not expected at the team complex until his contract situation is resolved, also stayed away.
Flacco, 27, didn't begrudge any of the players' absence and even defended and backed Rice's bid for a new contract.
"You hear a little bit about it, but I don't pay too much attention to anything unless I'm in the building here and somebody is telling me about it," Flacco said when asked about Rice, who will play the season under the $7.7 million franchise tag unless an extension is reached by July 16. "The only thing that I know is his contract is up and we should probably pay him."
With the start of training camp still about a month away, Flacco has plenty on his plate. His wife, Dana, is due to give birth to the couple's first child in about three weeks. The quarterback also is dealing with a contract situation of his own as he enters the final season of his rookie deal.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and the team's top decision-makers have said on several occasions that extending Flacco's contract is a priority this offseason. While the quarterback's agent, Joe Linta, has met with Ravens' vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty several times to negotiate an extension, there's no indication that any progress has been made and the belief is that Rice's situation has taken priority.
"Our guys don't seem distracted," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I don't think our situations are serious situations. They are just part of doing business. It's the way it works. It's the nature of it. The players have handled it really well. Obviously, [general manager Ozzie Newsome] and Pat Moriarty have handled it really well. We all want to get the deals done, and we're going to work hard to try to get them done."
If the situation is bothering Flacco, you would never know it. He has said repeatedly that he's letting his agent handle his contract talks and if an extension happens, it happens. He's not consumed by it, and it won't take away from his primary focus, which is gaining a rapport with a relatively new receiving corps.
The Ravens have 13 wide receivers on their roster, and only three of them — Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and LaQuan Williams — have caught a pass from Flacco in an NFL regular-season game. Today Wednesday, Flacco threw passes to everyone from recent veteran acquisition Jacoby Jones to rookie sixth-round pick Tommy Streeter.
"Oh, man, that guy, he sits in the pocket and works his progressions so well," said Jones, who was signed by the Ravens shortly after his release from the Houston Texans. "He knows what everyone is doing, and he makes sure you know what you're doing. He's a good quarterback."
When Flacco wasn't throwing to new faces, he was handing balls off to the likes of second-year running backs Anthony Allen and Damien Berry and rookie Bernard Pierce. With Birk missing and guard Ben Grubbs having signed with the New Orleans Saints, Flacco was surveying the defense behind a rotating group of offensive linemen that included rookies Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski.
And after a play, he had not only offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to talk things over with, but also new quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell.
"It was good to get out here, be with a lot of these young guys, a couple of new faces, and get a lot of work in," Flacco said. "It's still a long way from the season, a long way away from training camp, where we'll get most of our work done. It's always good to come out here, run around and kind of really get a feel for what we're getting ready to do. We've been off for a couple of months now, and it's good to get back to football because we love to do it and it's a lot of fun for us."
It was also the first step for the Ravens toward putting last year's AFC championship game loss, a 23-20 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots, behind him. That game featured one of the best performances of Flacco's career, given the circumstances, but it ended in heartbreak, with Lee Evans dropping a potential game-winning touchdown pass and Billy Cundiff missing a would-be game-tying field-goal attempt.
"I think we were all pretty crushed after that one," said Flacco, who went 22 of 36 for 306 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the loss. "It probably won't be the last time that we will lose a big football game. I think the true test of a good team is how you get back up and get back after it. So far, since I've been here, we've been able to do that, and we are going to treat it the same. Obviously, it hurts and it stings, but you have to get back out here.
"We are all tough guys and understand that kind of thing happens sometimes. I think time is one thing, and getting back out here and running around and realizing that it's not the end of the world. We have to come out here and we have to come ready to play so that we can get right back there and have the same opportunity next season."
The Ravens know that in order to do that, they'll need continued growth from their offense. Flacco was inconsistent last year, setting a career low for completion percentage (57.6 percent) and having the second-fewest touchdown passes (20) of his career while tying a career high with 12 interceptions.
Flacco's inconsistency mirrored that of the Ravens' offense, which finished 15th in total offense (338.7 yards per game), 19th in passing offense (213.9 yards per game) and 12th in points per game (23.6).
"I think the sky is the limit for us," Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda said. "With Ray and Joe, we just continue to keep getting better every year, and we flashed some really good things last year. We just need to be more consistent. I think we've flashed tools to be the No. 1 offense. It was like last year, we just needed to be consistent. We could run the ball, Joe could pass the ball. We've just got to put it together, and we've got the tools, which is great. You can see the guys out there that we have, the tools with Ray and Joe, Anquan and Torrey and those guys. So we're excited about it."
twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsunCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun