For Flacco, proof will be in passing

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens drafted one of college football's best quarterbacks in the first round yesterday. It set the stage for some exciting yet anxious moments in the development of Delaware's Joe Flacco.

We would all feel more confident about the Ravens' quarterback of the future if it were Boston College's Matt Ryan. As a matter of fact, there would have been a parade downtown last night.

We would probably feel better if Flacco were from Louisville or Michigan.

But Flacco is from a tiny, Football Championship Subdivision school that played against Navy and Towson, not Ohio State and Notre Dame. That in itself is reason to be concerned.

Yet at 6 feet 6 and 235 pounds, and with a really strong arm, you can see why the Ravens selected Flacco No. 18 overall because he has unlimited potential.

Flacco is such an intriguing pick, and make no mistake, the Ravens targeted him. If they couldn't trade up or have Ryan slip to them at No. 8 in the first round, then they wanted Flacco.

Was it a stretch for them to trade up eight spots to No. 18 overall to select Flacco? Yes. But the consensus was that there was going to be a run on quarterbacks either late in the first round or early in the second.

So if Flacco was the quarterback the Ravens coveted, then it made sense to go get him.

But there are a lot of questions about Flacco, more so than if he had played on the major-college level. The game is faster at the Football Bowl Subdivision level than at the Championship Subdivision level, and it will speed up even more in the pro ranks.

Flacco took most of his snaps in the shotgun formation at Delaware, but that won't be the case here. He'll have to make other adjustments, such as playing in front of filled stadiums and running a much more sophisticated scheme than he ever ran with the Blue Hens.

"There are other quarterbacks like Kurt Warner and Tony Romo who came from small schools and [have] done extremely well," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "Joe has tremendous physical skills as a passer."

The Ravens did their homework on Flacco. They exhausted every resource to find out about the kid because they know the importance of finally getting this one right after so many past failures.

The Ravens said all the right things about Flacco yesterday. They talked about his arm strength and his leadership. They compared his size to that of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and talked about his leadership skills.

Flacco's lack of foot speed is a concern, and there was one other major characteristic that Newsome always talks about, but didn't yesterday.

Newsome didn't say anything about Flacco's toughness. If a quarterback is to lead, he has to be tough, not just physically, but mentally.

"I think the most important part is that you can play," Flacco said. "That you're confident enough within the offense, and with your position as quarterback, that you're confident to be in that position. And then it's about gaining the respect of your team, which comes with how well do you play. How hard do you work? How well do you prepare? Leadership has to do with all of that. You don't get it right away. You may need help from a veteran."

Ravens fans and the team want a quarterback they can call their own. The New England Patriots have Tom Brady, and the Indianapolis Colts have Peyton Manning. In the AFC North, Pittsburgh has Roethlisberger, the Cincinnati Bengals have Carson Palmer and the Cleveland Browns now have Derek Anderson.

The Ravens now have Flacco. He comes to town to face an environment different from his predecessors' the past nine years.

Gone is Brian Billick, and that ragged offense that ended the careers of so many quarterbacks. Cam Cameron is the new offensive coordinator, and that might make a huge difference in Flacco's development.

During Kyle Boller's rookie season in 2003, the Ravens staged a quarterback competition between Boller and incumbent Chris Redman (wink, wink), and Boller won the starting job.

This time, the fix won't be in.

"We're excited to have him in the quarterback mix," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He is an impressive young man. I've said all along there will be a quarterback competition, and the best quarterback will play."

Well, at least this season. But we all know that down the road it's Flacco's job to lose. You don't move up eight spots in the first round and give up two draft picks to sit your first-round pick on the bench.

But either way, it's going to be fun and exciting watching Flacco develop. He has tremendous upside and will be coming to town with a chip on his shoulder.

That's a good start for a rookie quarterback in the NFL.

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