For all the talk of quarterback Joe Flacco being forced to work with a fourth offensive coordinator in as many years, another change this offseason could benefit him in his second year in the West Coast offense.
Backup quarterback Matt Schaub, just the second former starter whom Flacco has shared the quarterback's room with in his eight-year career, starred in Gary Kubiak's system when both were with the Houston Texans. It was the same system Flacco learned last year under Kubiak, who's now the Denver Broncos head coach.
Shaub has been eager to share his insight with Flacco as the two learn under Marc Trestman, the offensive coordinator who replaced Kubiak and is keeping the same basic principles in the playbook.
"It's one of those things where I understand my role with Joe and what I'm being asked to do, and I embrace it 100 percent — being someone who can just help in spots," Schaub said. "The thing is that Joe's played so much football, he knows the game. Football is football. Just being able to help him, there's subtle things within the offense, because this is really year two with him coming into this scheme.
"I'm not trying to overload him too much — he gets that from the coaches — so in talking one on one, I just try and do subtle things," Schaub said. "But he gets it."
Coach John Harbaugh has seen the relationship grow — and the similarities between the only starter he's had in Baltimore and his new deputy emerge — through the three sets of voluntary organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, which ended Thursday with a brisk, crisp practice before the skies opened up in Owings Mills.
"Matt's just had a lot of reps under his belt learning this offense, and it's not exactly the same … the foundation of the offense is the same, and they're two guys kind of in the same place in their life," Harbaugh said. "Early 30s, they have young families, they're the same height almost — they kind of look the same, though I wouldn't tell either of them that, they'd be insulted. But I think they enjoy being around each other."
At age 33, Schaub is three years older than Flacco, but comes to Baltimore with plenty of respect for him. He said Flacco is a "winner" with "the pelts under his belt to prove it."
The two rose to prominence on upstart teams in the late 2000s, with Flacco taking over as a rookie in 2008 and Schaub going from the Atlanta Falcons, where he backed up Michael Vick, to the Houston Texans in 2007. After two injury-marred seasons, Schaub broke out to lead the league in passing and made the Pro Bowl in 2009, the first of two berths he'd earn with the Texans.
Schaub's statistical peaks were better, but Flacco and the Ravens had more success.
Kubiak benched Schaub in 2013 and traded him to the Oakland Raiders in the offseason; Schaub didn't start a game in Oakland in 2014.
With the Ravens, he's the first experienced backup in since Marc Bulger was in Baltimore for the 2010 season. Otherwise, Flacco has played in front of Troy Smith and Tyrod Taylor, both of whom were inexpensive and inexperienced options. Taylor signed with the Buffalo Bills after becoming a free agent this offseason.
"I think I've always had a good relationship with the backups on this team," Flacco said. "It's always good to have those guys to bounce things off of. I have a different opinion on things, and just getting conversations started, I think Matt's been great for that."
Schaub said he was careful early to not over-step his boundaries with the starter and unquestioned leader of the Ravens offense, but through working with him on the field, chatting between practice reps, and enjoying the occasional dinner or round of golf with Flacco and some of the other offensive veterans, he has gotten more comfortable.
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"I think [we've found that balance]," Schaub said. "Not to mention we've played against each other numerous times, and we know each other's games. I think there's a mutual respect there. … It's been a good working relationship."
Trestman, who follows Kubiak, Jim Caldwell and Cam Cameron as Flacco's offensive coordinators, said he's fortunate to have a starting quarterback so adaptable, and tells his quarterbacks that every day.
"I think it just is a statement to him, how flexible he is," Trestman said. "He just has the ability to work with different guys and positive things happen.
"He's been extremely flexible and open-minded, and we're working together," he said. "We're doing this together, to try to not only be consistent with the play that he's had and to continually try to get better. And he wants to get better. That's exciting."
Flacco, for his part, looks like he's doing that through the offseason workouts. After getting his timing back early in OTAs, he's looked sharp as he looks to improve on last year's 3,986-yard, 27-touchdown season. Both were career highs.
He was emphatic, though, that the success he had in Kubiak's offense won't affect the way he prepares to play in Trestman's.
"This is Marc's offense," Flacco said. "Matt's been in it with Gary and I've been in it with Gary. Certain things that are carried over — we knew how Gary taught it — but at the same time, Marc's the offensive coordinator. I want him to be his own man, and I want him to lead the way he knows. That's how we're going to be best. We're not going to be our best if he's trying to do it somebody else's way."