"Everybody likes the football their way," said Ravens Joe Flacco. "That’s why I make sure our guys rub the balls down in a certain way, have them rub a couple balls down and make sure I like it." (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The question was about Joe Flacco and his ability to be productive and lead the Ravens to the playoffs nearly every season despite annual and widespread change on the offensive side of the ball.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh used it as an opportunity to launch into a passionate defense of his longtime starting quarterback.
"I'm not going to swallow that hook. I mean, Joe Flacco has been a great quarterback from the day he got here. You want to look back and say, 'This has been the most talented offense in the National Football League for the last seven years and they carried Joe Flacco.' You can say that if you want but it's ridiculous," Harbaugh said following the conclusion of the Ravens' second organized team activity.
"Joe Flacco is a great player. He's only going to get better. I think he's hitting his stride, hitting the peak of his career. And I wouldn't want any other quarterback in the National Football League. Period. End of story. So just write that and be done with it, because that's the last I really want to hear about it. This guy is a superstar in the National Football League and I'm thrilled to have him. I can't wait to see what he does this year with all that young talent around him. I love the young talent around him. I'm thrilled with what we got."
The start of the first of three weeks of voluntary OTAs brought the annual questions about the state of the Ravens' offense, which again will have a different look in the upcoming season. But Flacco, who has started every game for the team over the past seven seasons, remains one of the few constants.
That's why Flacco offered little more than a shrug when he was asked Thursday about all the new faces around him. It's become old hat for the 30-year-old.
"It's the nature of the business. I got here in '08 and I think myself, Terrell [Suggs], Sam Koch and Marshal Yanda are the only guys that were on that team and are still on the team now," said Flacco, who is coming off arguably the best season of his career. "There's a ton of turnover. You realize that very quickly. Coaches, the same thing. The biggest thing is we have a really confident group, so we just welcome anything. It's just, 'OK, yeah, it's all right. We're going to be good.'"
Flacco expressed similar confidence in his current group despite the fact that so many key components of last year's offense, which set single-season franchise records in points and yards, are now preparing for football seasons far from Owings Mills.
Gone are offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, the new Denver Broncos head coach who took position coaches Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani with him. Kubiak was replaced by former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman, who is the Ravens' fourth playcaller in as many seasons. Marty Mornhinweg is now Flacco's primary position coach.
The Ravens' second and third leading receivers last year — Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels — are playing elsewhere, as is deep threat Jacoby Jones. Flacco's closest friend, Dennis Pitta, remains a question mark to play another snap with the Ravens after he fractured and dislocated his hip in back-to-back seasons. Bernard Pierce, the team's second-leading rusher last year, is now in Jacksonville.
"It's disappointing to see guys leave; they're your friends more so than anything," Flacco said. "Obviously, a lot of guys have been very productive on the field for us, but you really have relationships with those people and it's tough to see them leave for that reason. But also, you're happy for them, because if they're leaving, they're usually leaving here for a good reason in their personal life."
Flacco has learned to adjust after losing some of his favorite targets, guys like Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Anquan Boldin and Ray Rice — who was always one of the quarterback's favorite safety valves. Never once has he complained about the turnover, choosing to embrace it as a new opportunity.
Following Thursday's workout in which he took snaps behind an offensive line that didn't include one projected starter, Flacco spoke excitedly about the rapport that he's already built with Trestman.
"It's been great to work with him so far," Flacco said. "He's very detailed in what he wants and how he puts things in and making sure that he teaches it in a way that everybody understands it and gets it pretty quickly. It's only been a couple of times out on the field with him, but I think he's doing a great job of motivating and getting everybody going, so it's been good."
Two of Flacco's top new targets — wide receiver Breshad Perriman, the team's first-round NFL draft pick, and second-round tight end Maxx Williams — aren't participating in OTAs this week because they're at the NFL Players Association Rookie Premiere event in Los Angeles. But Flacco, nonetheless, seemed pleased with the wide receivers who were there, describing the group as "promising."
Steve Smith, the 36-year-old who led the Ravens with 79 catches for 1,065 yards last year, doesn't think the team's younger pass catchers will have a problem getting in line with Flacco.
"With Joe, it's really easy to get chemistry," Smith said. "He's a laid-back guy. He likes to play ball. He likes it a certain way, I like it a certain way. We get on the same page and it's fine. It's actually really simple to get with Joe."
Last season, Flacco set career highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27), and completed 62.1 percent of his throws, his best mark since 2010. He also cut his interceptions down to 12, 10 fewer than he threw during a frustrating 2013 campaign.
The Ravens have vowed to keep their offensive philosophy very similar to last year's, even though Trestman — and not Kubiak — will call the plays. There will be some changes, specifically with some of the verbiage of the calls, but team officials are confident that Flacco will quickly grasp the new wrinkles. After all, he's done it before.
"It doesn't feel like a Year One [in the offense]. I feel really comfortable with some things, but it's still nice to get out here in these practices and run through some things that you're getting for the first time and seeing how everybody reacts to it," Flacco said. "I think we're doing a really good job of breaking the huddle, getting out, getting lined up. All the mistakes we're having are kind of little things that are very easily corrected. I think we're going to get better and better through the next eight of these [OTAs]."