When the Ravens used a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft to select Joe Flacco, little did anybody know that he would become the only starting quarterback in NFL history to reach the playoffs in each of his first four seasons.
Four teams took a similar path in April. The Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins chose Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III first and second in the draft, while the Miami Dolphins picked Ryan Tannehill at No. 8 and the Cleveland Browns selected Brandon Weeden at No. 22. Coincidentally or not, none of those teams advanced to last year's postseason.
Those four teams may be looking to capture the same magic that the Ravens used in their first year with Flacco, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said that prospect is becoming increasingly difficult in the NFL.
"I just think the league in general makes it tough on young quarterbacks. And defenses and defensive coordinators," he said after Thursday's practice at the team's headquarters in Owings Mills. "I really marveled last year at how some of the young guys came in and did what they did because I think in a lot of ways, the college game and the pro game are becoming more and more different. I think, first and foremost, credit goes to Joe and the amount of hard work he has put in and always does. He's always wanting to learn. So you give the credit to him. I think things are just maturing and growing, getting better. He still can keep getting better and better and better, and no one knows it better than him."
One of the areas that Flacco is expanding his grasp of is in the control he has to change plays at the line of scrimmage. A criticism in 2010, the ability to audible is something that the coaches are giving Flacco more leeway with.
"Joe has a lot of flexibility," Cameron said. "It varies from game to game. Sometimes it's not always tied into what the quarterback can do. It depends on your offensive line … There are a lot of factors that go into your ability to audible. I guess the best way for me to word it is there is nothing that we wouldn't be able to do with Joe Flacco at quarterback from any aspect of the game."