WESTMINSTER — Joe Flacco has broken character a few times since the launch of training camp, displaying an emotional side of his personality that remained largely hidden during his wildly successful rookie campaign.
The Baltimore Ravens’ franchise quarterback has gotten visibly angry whenever he has uncorked an interception or missed an open target with an overthrow during practices, cursing in frustration following a couple of miscues and even throwing his helmet to the ground at one point.
It’s a set of reactions that weren’t present during Flacco’s first season in Baltimore as he spearheaded the Ravens to the AFC championship game with uncommon poise.
Heading into tonight’s preseason opener against the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium, Flacco’s mounting interception total has alarmed some fans and raised a few eyebrows with reporters. The majority of the turnovers have transpired because of Flacco uncharacteristically throwing across his body or off of his back foot.
Those bad habits rarely manifested themselves during his first season in Baltimore, and the Ravens don’t expect Flacco to experience any kind of sophomore jinx.
"Joe was extremely cool last season," wide receiver Demetrius Williams said. "If anything, Joe is even calmer now. With someone like him, there’s nothing to worry about. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen."
Fundamentally sound with excellent mechanics, Flacco learned how to avoid interceptions last season.
Flacco boosted the Ravens to a 9-2 run over the final 11 games of the regular season as he posted a 90.2 quarterback rating with 13 touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Now, the Ravens are banking on Flacco learning from some of his recent mistakes they believe have been caused by him experimenting in practice sessions to see what he can get away with.
"I’d be concerned if he weren’t throwing some interceptions, because now’s the time to test your limits," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "The only way your quarterback can grow is to squeeze some balls in at this time of year to find the limits, find the limits of the receiver, find the limits of the defender, find the limits of your protection.
"Then, as the season approaches, obviously it starts to change. Now, if he’s doing it every snap, which he’s not doing that, [I’d be concerned]. But that’s the only way I know."
Cameron speaks from experience having groomed San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers during his formative years in the league.
Cameron witnessed some occasional shaky moments from Rivers, but that didn’t shake his belief in the young quarterback.
"I remember Philip Rivers throwing four interceptions in a row one day and I remember Marty Schottenheimer coming over, ‘What the hell is going on?’" Cameron said. "And I said, ‘Coach, that’s the best thing that can happen to this kid.’ And he came back and responded with a touchdown, and I still had a job.”
Last season, Flacco completed 60.1 percent of his throws for 2,971 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
He became the first NFL rookie to ever win two playoff games before being intercepted three times in the AFC championship game against the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers while posting an 18.2 quarterback rating.
Flacco is slated to play through at least the first quarter followed by backup Troy Smith in the second and third quarters with John Beck closing out the fourth quarter.
And Flacco is undaunted by his up-and-down moments in practice against the NFL’s second-ranked defense from last season.
"You definitely get more comfortable with things and it slows down," Flacco said. "It slowed down as the year progressed last year. We’ll get back out there in the preseason game and we’ll have to get acclimated a little bit, but it’s definitely slowed down and I feel pretty comfortable. ..
"We’re excited to get out there and play a live game again. We’ve been waiting a while to do that.”
Against the Redskins, Flacco may have to deal with some unfamiliarity and chaos due to injuries to his top three wide receivers Derrick Mason (dislocated finger), Mark Clayton (strained left hamstring) and Williams (right hamstring) as well as a reshuffled offensive line.
Flacco is likely to be working with reserve wide receivers Justin Harper, Kelley Washington and Marcus Smith for the most part.
"It doesn’t matter," Flacco said. "I’m just dropping back, finding my open guy and trying to throw it to him. It doesn’t really matter who it is."
When retired offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden visited camp Tuesday, he gave Flacco a strong vote of confidence.
"I just hope he continues to progress from what he did as a rookie," Ogden said. "The kid has the right mentality playing the game. As long as he just doesn’t regress, and I’m not saying that he will, he has looked really good out there. But as far as t he season goes, we’re going to go as he goes."
Accustomed to Flacco generating a high degree of accuracy, the Ravens are counting on good ball security from him and a high precision on his throws.
They’re looking for Flacco to complete a higher percentage of his throws across the middle this season after he didn’t complete 50 percent in that direction a year ago while concentrating primarily on pushing the ball outside to Mason for 80 completions and 1,037 yards .
"In the preseason, I want to throw completions," Cameron said. "That could be up the field or underneath. I want to see completions inside the numbers, up the field, sideline to sideline.
“That’ s what we’re going to do in the preseason. For us to improve our offense, we’ve got to throw the ball better. Obviously, it starts with the quarterback."
NOTE: The Ravens waived wide receiver Thomas White. White had been sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital