At this time last year, Joe Flacco was extolling the virtues of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. The year before, it was Jim Caldwell. The year before that was his final season with Cam Cameron.
So maybe this is the new normal. Flacco is bonding with his fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons, and nobody seems to think it's much of a problem anymore, which is quite a testament to his adaptability and lunch-pail mentality. He has navigated the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in the Ravens' offensive scheme so seamlessly, it's fair to wonder where the franchise might be right now with a higher-maintenance quarterback.
"I think that Joe has great experience in this environment, with a new coordinator almost every year the last four or five years, so he's experienced this and he's an unflappable guy,'' said Marc Trestman, who replaced Kubiak in January. "He's an even-keel guy. He's very flexible in his thinking. I think he relates to everybody in terms of how we deal with him each and every day.
"But the bottom line is, he loves football, he wants to get better, we want to try to help him get better, and thus, we can help the team to get better. It's just the daily grind of working together and learning more about each other, and it's really a lot of fun."
It also has been challenging at times in the past, because Flacco isn't just some shrinking violet who goes along to get along. But his ability to go with the flow under just about any circumstances — from the frequent coaching changes to the regular turnover at wide receiver and tight end — is a major reason the Ravens never have been out of playoff contention at any point in his career.
Flacco is almost a contradiction in terms. He's the embodiment of stability, and yet he has shown an uncanny ability to embrace change. That's not a small thing in the big-ego, high-stress world of the NFL.
"I've tried to go into this whole thing open-minded the last couple years, and I think it's been for the best," Flacco said Thursday. "I think it teaches you things; it allows you to learn a lot. You bounce ideas off of each other, and I think it challenges you, in a good way, to continue to get better. And it challenges the guys around us, and I think we've got a good group and a group that's willing to take that challenge and make it into a good thing. So as long as we look at it that way, I think it's all good."
Not that everything always falls right into place. There were hiccups in Flacco's relationship with Cameron and times when the offense sputtered. The transition from Kubiak to Trestman has been smooth because both coordinators work out of the same basic scheme, but there already have been challenges in the early days of training camp.
The preseason optimism that characterized the opening of camp has been tempered a bit by a series of injuries that have kept Flacco and Trestman from making full use of the made-over receiving corps. But it's very early, and as always, Flacco is the embodiment of the Ravens' next-man-up ethic, even though the team never has needed the next man behind center during his career.
The Ravens might be waiting for speedy rookie Breshad Perriman to step in after suffering a bruised knee in the first full-team workout and for Marlon Brown to return from a back injury, but they never stand still. Flacco has shown throughout his career that he has the ability to make do with whatever offensive weapons are at his disposal, and more importantly, he has an uncanny ability to remain standing.
That's why any angst about the rocky play of backup quarterback Matt Schaub should be a nonissue. Let's be brutally honest: If the Ravens need Schaub — or any other reserve quarterback — to play for an extended period, they are not going to be an elite team.
The only year the Ravens failed to reach the playoffs (2013) in Flacco's seven seasons was the only year that his passer rating dipped into the 70s and the only year he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. It's fairly obvious that how Joe goes, so go the Ravens. And Joe seems to be doing just fine in Trestman's offense.
"He's the utmost professional,'' Trestman said. "He walks in every day, he's totally prepared to practice. There's never a time when I have to repeat things to him. Once you tell him something, he's got it. He'll give feedback when he feels it's necessary. He's very good at handling information and communicating as we go through the process of building our offense. It's really been a blast to be with him and Matt as well and the whole [quarterbacks] room. We think we're getting better and we think we're going to get to know each other better."
The real question might be this: Once the offense is fully installed and Perriman and Brown get back onto the field, how much better can Flacco get as he heads into his 30s?
"He was really good to begin with, and he has gotten better every year, like you would hope,'' head coach John Harbaugh said. "He never stops improving, which is what the great ones … I think that's how the great ones are. But the nice thing is, he's not at that stage yet where he has to overcome any physical liability. That's still a number of years down the road. He's still improving every day. "