Even the rookies and defensive players get asked about Joe, no surname required.
Does he have a chip on his shoulder after the Ravens drafted quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round? Does he seem invigorated by having to defend his job in this, his 11th NFL season? Does he have a new spring in his step now that he’s moved past knee and back troubles?
Joe Flacco offered a simple answer Friday when asked whether he expects to grow tired of all the questions about his state of mind and the rookie breathing down his neck.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “Because I think we’re going to win and we’re not going to hear about it.”
The Ravens quarterback alternated from funny to defiant to optimistic as he spoke for the first time at the start of his 11th training camp in Baltimore.
Flacco has several reasons to be in a good mood. He’s moving and throwing freely, things he could not do at this time last year, when he sat out all of training camp because of bad back. He’s also building new relationships, both personal and on the field, with a trio of veteran receivers signed to invigorate the passing game.
Fans oohed and aahed Friday as they watched Flacco sail majestic spirals into the waiting arms of Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV.
Critics zinged Flacco over the years for not gathering with his receivers to build chemistry in the offseason. So it was notable when Snead revealed that Flacco had worked out with his new corps last week at a park across the road from the team’s training complex in Owings Mills.
Flacco knows people will seize on anecdotes like that as proof he’s fired up about warding off Jackson’s challenge.
“Does it really matter what I say? I think you guys will probably link it to Lamar anyway,” he chided. “What do you think of when you think of my name? You probably don’t think of somebody that’s very exciting. You probably try to pin my personality down to something that I probably believe it’s really not.”
In other words, he’s always regarded himself as a passionate player. And he doesn’t see himself differently because Jackson has come to town.
“In order to make it in this league, period, you have to be able to tune out some things and believe in yourself and go play,” he said. “So I don’t know if this situation is any different than just making it in this league.”
As with most things he does, Flacco treated the extracurricular workouts as no big deal.
“A couple guys were willing to come to town and get some work in, and that’s always good,” he said. “I think even more so than the throwing — we have plenty of time to get out here and throw — it’s just developing that bond and that trust.”
But the impression he’s making on his new receivers is real.
“He’s always open, and I can tell him something or speak what I’m feeling, and he takes it with a positive energy,” said the sure-handed Snead, who has the look of a favorite Flacco target.
“That’s one thing that’s great for a receiver — when your quarterback can relate to you and give his ideas at the same time, so that way you’re on the same page. That’s just been the biggest thing, and knowing that he’s totally healthy and has a lot of energy and confidence going into this season — that’s exciting as well. He’s told me plenty of times that he feels really good about this group and definitely about this season coming up.”
More seasoned Flacco observers have also noticed the good vibes between him and his new targets.
“I love everything about Joe,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We’ve got to be better for him. Having a healthy offseason for him and then getting the new additions and then working every day in the offseason and seeing them now, I expect Joe to have a career year this year and to lead our team into the playoffs.”
Flacco knows he has to improve on the last three seasons, when he consistently ranked among the worst starters in the NFL in passer rating. Not coincidentally, his last good season, 2014, was the last time the Ravens made the playoffs.
He also knows he might not be long for Baltimore if Jackson lives up to his billing as a first-round pick and former Heisman Trophy winner.
But Flacco in no way sees himself as a player winding down. The 33-year-old joked that his career will end when someone finally kicks him out of an NFL facility, years down the line.
He expressed some familiar skepticism when asked about formations that might place him and Jackson on the field at the same time. He wasn’t as dismissive as he was in 2013, when he derided a Wildcat play called for then-backup Tyrod Taylor as “high school offense.”
But he painted the more exotic plays as a work in progress.
“I think right now, when we do it, it’s like a big red flag to the defense,” he said. “But listen, Lamar is a heck of an athlete who can throw the football, so the opportunities are definitely there.”
He also emphasized how much fun he still has playing and how much he missed being on the field before last season.
That circles back to the relationships he’s trying to build with his new receivers, bonds he believes will pay off at crucial moments this fall.
“In this league, there’s a lot of times when you’re going to have guys open, and it’s going to be all good and the fact that you’re off a tick might not matter,” he said. “But when it really matters, you’re going to need to be right on it. And I think the more reps you get, the more likely chance you have to feel comfortable in those times of high stress.”