Healthy Flacco confident things will be better in 2017

The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

It dawned on Joe Flacco on Tuesday when he was in the middle of a series of runs on the first day of the Ravens' voluntary offseason workout program.

At this time last year, the veteran quarterback wasn't participating in any team-wide workouts. He was still rehabilitating his surgically repaired left knee with an established goal of being ready for the start of training camp a few months down the road.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is coming off a disappointing 2016 season, but he's healthy this spring and confident that 2017 will be "better."

"I kind of forgot that I wasn't out here running with these guys and going through all that stuff," Flacco said Wednesday after a workout at the team facility. "Some of the bad stuff, I think, my mind quickly forgets about and moves on."

Flacco did not take the same approach to dealing with a bitterly disappointing 2016 season, for him and the Ravens. The team finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive year, and Flacco's uneven form was a major reason why.

He said Wednesday that he spent some time this offseason reviewing his 15 interceptions, along with his 20 touchdown passes. He emerged from the film sessions with a better grasp of the things that he did well and not-so-well in 2016, along with a clearer understanding of the offense's strengths and weaknesses.

"We just didn't get the job done. It starts with me," said Flacco who set a career high with 4,317 passing yards but ranked near the bottom of the league in yards-per-attempt and quarterback rating. "We just didn't play consistent enough. We showed flashes of being a really good football team, but the consistency just wasn't there when you look back. But the knee wasn't an issue. It felt good all year round, especially come Sundays. And mentally, it wasn't there for me. My knee was never really a thought when I was out there on the field."

More prepared: Getting set for his 10th NFL season, Flacco does acknowledge that he should be far more prepared for the upcoming campaign. The Ravens will find out their regular-season schedule Thursday night.

"Everything will be better," he said. "You can just attack it with a little bit more oomph and start with a better foundation."

Last season, he didn't start taking part in on-field workouts until training camp, and the missed organized team activities robbed him of opportunities to gain better chemistry and timing with an evolving group of pass catchers. He also only played briefly in one preseason game.

This year, he can not only bond and communicate with his receivers during the workout program, but he'll also have the OTAs and the mandatory veteran minicamp.

"I think we did a pretty good job of being on the same page last year with limited reps. He didn't even start until training camp," said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who had 1,017 receiving yards last year in his first season as a Raven. "Throughout the whole OTAs, we'll have that opportunity. By the time we get to training camp, I think we'll be in the full swing of things."

Making an impression: Flacco, 32, has already made an impression on his teammates through two days of the workout program. Safety Eric Weddle watched Flacco run Tuesday and said he saw no "hiccup" in his stride, which was evident at times last year. Wallace joked that perhaps Flacco, who said he'll continue to wear a brace on his left knee, will become more of a scrambler and rattle off a few long runs.

When Ravens director of performance Steve Saunders, who is directing the workouts, watched film of Tuesday's runs, he noticed that Flacco finished first in his group on a couple of occasions.

"Joe did fantastic the past two days. I think with Joe, it's just nice to get past the rehab obviously of last year, have a healthy Joe who is working hard with everybody else," Saunders said. "Joe is such a big, athletic guy. People can underestimate him, I feel. … For him, I just think there's a confidence, there's building on last year and there's getting Joe stronger and faster. All that, I think, is going to pay big dividends later in the season."

Few changes on offense: As the Ravens front office has made a handful of moves to augment the defense this offseason, it's only offensive addition has been veteran running back Danny Woodhead.

The Ravens still haven't added an external replacement for right tackle Rick Wagner, who signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency, or center Jeremy Zuttah who was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. Despite losing two of their top receivers, with Steve Smith Sr. retiring and Kamar Aiken signing with the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens haven't acquired any outside targets for Flacco.

Like Wallace, Flacco downplayed the need for any outside help. He said he contacted former Raven Torrey Smith after his release by the 49ers — Smith later signed with the Philadelphia Eagles — and did some brief fact gathering on Western Michigan's Corey Davis, one of the top receivers in next year's draft. Davis was a college teammate of Flacco's brother, Tom.

Otherwise, he expressed confidence in the receivers currently on the Ravens roster, a group that also includes Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro (River Hill), Chris Matthews and Keenan Reynolds (Navy), and said he had no plans to campaign general manager Ozzie Newsome to draft a wide receiver in the first round.

"I think we've got a lot of young, talented guys, guys that are ready to make a name for themselves and they're going to work really hard this offseason to get that done," said Flacco, explaining why he feels the Ravens don't necessarily need to draft a wide receiver early next week. "Whenever you have guys that are working really hard and you have that camaraderie out here and everybody is looking to get better and you're just developing relationships, I think that's all going to help when we get to the field. It's nice to have guys that are here and want to work and we're going to develop as Baltimore Ravens."

Notes: Flacco said he and his wife, Dana, will travel to Arizona on Thursday to provide support for former teammate and close friend Todd Heap, who accidentally ran over and killed his 3-year-old daughter as he was moving his truck in the driveway of his suburban Phoenix home last Friday. "I have kids myself," Flacco said. "It was a tragic accident. He's a friend, and me and my wife kind of just want to be there for them." … Offensive linemen Ryan Jensen and James Hurst officially signed their restricted free agent tenders and Matthews signed his exclusive rights deal.