With new offense around him, Ravens QB Joe Flacco knows he has chance 'to do new things'
By By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun|
Apr 05, 2014 at 10:11 PM
CHANTILLY, Va. — Since quarterback Joe Flacco last broke the huddle during a season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in late December, the Ravens have dramatically overhauled an offense that struggled mightily last season.
They've hired Gary Kubiak as their new offensive coordinator, with the former Houston Texans head coach now in the process of installing his playbook. They've also invested roughly $113.5 million total, including $47 million guaranteed, in new contracts for offensive players in a concerted effort to upgrade the NFL's 29th-ranked offense.
"It's a new year, a new beginning and a chance to do new things," Flacco told The Baltimore Sun on Saturday during an autograph show, his first interview since the end of last season. "I'm always excited. I think we've got a good team and an offense that can put up some numbers. So it's just on us to do it."
Over the past month, the Ravens signed five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith and two-time Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels. They landed center Jeremy Zuttah in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They also held on to starting tight end Dennis Pitta, left tackle Eugene Monroe and wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones.
"No doubt about it, these guys are some explosive players," said Flacco, who finished with a career-high 22 interceptions and just 19 touchdowns last season. "We're going to expect them to come in and help us out and be pretty good. These guys are ready to go and work and build on what we have.
"These guys are going to do nothing but help. They're proven players from across the league, and it will be interesting to see how they come in and fit in and help us out."
Last season, the Ravens had trouble adjusting to the absence of Pitta, who missed all but the final four games after he fractured and dislocated his right hip during training camp. The offense never replaced the tough, physical presence of wide receiver Anquan Boldin after trading him to the San Francisco 49ers last year following a contract dispute. The running game was practically nonexistent, falling to 30th overall in the NFL as running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce dealt with injuries and rarely broke tackles or eluded defenders.
Those shortcomings were all major factors in the Ravens' 8-8 finish and failure to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in Flacco's six NFL seasons, which followed his landmark $120.6 million contract and Most Valuable Player honors in a Super Bowl XLVII victory.
"It was disappointing not to be there last year," Flacco said of the playoffs. "It's a new year, and we're excited to get back out there."
Now the Ravens are transforming their offense in the vision of Kubiak.
A former backup to Denver Broncos Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, Kubiak oversaw offenses that ranked in the top 10 in the league in four of the past six years with the Texans before he was fired after last season.
Kubiak, 52, is a strong advocate of a running game emphasizing zone-blocking principles that give the backs several choices on where to cut. He runs diverse schemes that alternate between three-wide receiver sets and power principles featuring two-tight end alignments.
The Texans ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense four consecutive years before plummeting to 31st last season, which they began with Super Bowl ambitions.
Flacco has been studying the playbook and recently had an introductory meeting with Kubiak and new quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison.
"I like it so far," Flacco said of the playbook. "I'm just trying to grasp as much of it as I can before I get back and we really start going through it together. That's when I'll really start to understand it a little bit better.
"We're going to grow our relationship in the meeting rooms as we get this offense where we want it. Right now, we're just early on, and I've heard nothing but good things. I had a really good conversation with Gary, and I'm really excited about it."
Flacco completed just 59 percent of his passes last season for 3,912 yards and finished with a career-low 73.1 passer rating, 32nd among qualifying quarterbacks.
Flacco often was under duress in the pocket last season, and he was sacked a career-high 48 times. The offensive line had to adjust midseason to a new left tackle in Monroe, who was obtained in a trade from the Jacksonville Jaguarsas a replacement for starter Bryant McKinnie. They also had to plug in A.Q. Shipley as a replacement for left guard Kelechi Osemele as he underwent season-ending back surgery to repair a herniated disk.
Osemele is expected to start again at left guard. The lone unsettled position is right tackle, where Rick Wagner could compete with a rookie draft pick for the starting job, unless Osemele returns to the position where he started as a rookie.
"That's where it starts," Flacco said of his blockers. "We need to get those guys ready to go and coming out and hungry and playing well. I think we're ready to do that, and I think they're going to do that, just like we always do."
Zuttah is the new starting center, replacing Gino Gradkowski. The Ravens signed Zuttah to a new five-year, $18 million contract after acquiring him for a 2015 fifth-round draft pick.
"I've heard nothing but good things," Flacco said of Zuttah.
During the final two games of last season, Flacco dealt with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee suffered against the Detroit Lions. The injury clearly affected his mobility, and he had just one touchdown and five interceptions and was sacked six times as the Ravens lost their last two games.
Healthy again, Flacco didn't need to undergo offseason surgery and appears lean and fit.
"It wasn't ideal, but my knee is feeling good," Flacco said. "I don't have any problems with it anymore."
Flacco ideally would like to hold informal throwing sessions with his offensive teammates this offseason, but he said they've been difficult to organize because of some players' family commitments and school schedules as they complete their degree requirements.
The Ravens' voluntary offseason training program starts April 21 at their training complex. That's likely when the bulk of any on-field offseason work will commence.
"We'll see what we can do, but it's tough with everybody," Flacco said. "We're always constantly talking about it. We're going to be back in the facility in two weeks. Obviously, we'll be getting together then.
"The other thing is it's a new offense. None of us really knows exactly what's going on with how to run a lot of things. It will be nice to get some direction from some of the coaches."