At last year's training camp, much was said and written about the louder and bolder Joe Flacco. He verbally sparred with Terrell Suggs and other Ravens defensive players. He got on officials for not calling pass interference. He loudly encouraged his receivers and celebrated touchdown passes.
It was all part of the narrative of Flacco, armed with a Super Bowl ring and the richest contract in franchise history, growing into the Ravens' undisputed leader and the face and voice of the franchise.
But after the most disappointing season in his career, Flacco has toned down his act considerably this training camp. In fact, I can't recall one instance over the first two weeks of camp where I've heard Flacco trash talk to a teammate or get on a referee or wide receiver. He's barely even celebrated a touchdown.
Don't misunderstand – he's plenty engaged in the practices. Flacco is regularly talking between plays with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison. He spends a lot of time conversing with his receivers when he's on the sideline.
I'm not saying that his demeanor this year is better or worse than it was last training camp. It's just different and certainly notable given the fact that Flacco is trying to learn a new offense and rebound from last year's poor season.
I asked Flacco's long-time backup, Tyrod Taylor, to explain Flacco's toned down practice demeanor. Here was his explanation:
"We have a lot more to focus on than to be going back and forth with your defense. We have to go out there and execute plays. Like you said, it's a new offense, so we're more so focused on that, putting all our attention on that and letting everything else play out. The defense [is] always going to talk, but they don't have a new defense going in. We have a new offense to learn, and we have to get everybody on board. So the more that we can stay focused, it just shows the rest of the team that we're focused and they can take our lead."
** Thursday's preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers is an important game for many players but two guys who really need to make a statement are wide receivers Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams (Maryland). Both have had uneven training camps so far and they are going to need to be better in order to solidify one of the final one or two wide receiver spots. Kamar Aiken has outplayed both of them and the Ravens also are high on undrafted free agent receiversJace Davis and Jeremy Butler. That doesn't leave much room for Thompson and Williams.
We'll see how this plays out in the days ahead but it had to be unsettling for Ravens' officials to see cornerback Jimmy Smith grimacing frequently and holding his lower back during much of yesterday's practice. With their other projected starting corner, Lardarius Webb, expected to miss much – if not all – of the preseason, the Ravens can ill afford Smith to be sidelined. It's gotten to the point where I'd be surprised if the Ravens didn't make a trade to bring in another cornerback.
** I like head coach John Harbaugh's decision to keep giving some of his veterans and starters periodic days off in addition to the scheduled off days already incorporated into the training camp schedule. Of course, you want to keep your key players fresh and healthy and the Ravens' regular-season opener is still over a month away. But I also think it's just as important to give the second-team players repetitions against the first teamers on the other side of the ball. For example, starting guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele were held out of practice on Saturday and that allowed the coaches to see how A.Q. Shipley and Ryan Jensen fared while trying to block the likes of Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty. When Jimmy Smith was held out, Asa Jacksonhad an opportunity to go against Steve Smith and Torrey Smith. Those repetitions are extremely valuable for evaluation purposes.
** Harbaugh said yesterday that there was no timetable for either guard Will Rackley or nose tackle Terrence Cody's return to practice. Rackley, who is dealing with a concussion, made it through one practice while Cody hasn't practiced at all as he recovers from offseason hip surgery. It's starting to look like Cody will start the season on the physically unable to perform list. As for Rackley, it's going to be really tough for him to make the team at this point. A.Q. Shipley, Ryan Jensen and John Urschel all are seemingly ahead of Rackley for reserve guard spots.
** I wrote a little about this already but Torrey Smith's ascent into one of the team leaders was never more obvious as it was this past week when he got his teammates together to come out and support Ray Rice during the running back's highly-scrutinized news conference. Perhaps, some would have went out on their own anyway, but the number of Ravens who lined the area to hear Rice talk is a credit to how they feel about Rice and the respect that they have for Smith. The Ravens have to figure out a way to sign Smith to a long-term deal. He's far too important to the organization on and off the field to allow him to go elsewhere. And to his credit, Smith has no interest in leaving either.