In an article originally published on May 2, 2008, just after the Ravens drafted Joe Flacco, the quarterback who Brian Billick believed would become the Ravens franchise quarterback shared his thoughts on the rookie signal caller.
OWINGS MILLS — The impending arrival of imposing rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is expected to literally cast a large shadow over returning veterans Kyle Boller and Troy Smith.
Nonetheless, the ripple effect of the Baltimore Ravens tabbing Flacco as their quarterback of the future with the 18th overall pick of the first round hasn’t triggered any apparent discontent from his competition.
Even though Flacco’s eventual ascension to the starting job is regarded as inevitable, both Boller and Smith emphasized that they will welcome the big rookie from Delaware during his transition to the NFL.
“I think it’s awesome, I think competition is going to be great for our offense, for our team,” Boller said Friday during a minicamp at the Ravens’ training complex. “I’m happy to have Joe here. I’m sure I’ll be able to help him out.
“We’re all in this together. We’re all going to try to do everything we can to lead this offense and to score a lot of points this year and hopefully win a lot of games.”
For Boller, who learned of Flacco being picked through a text message while playing in a celebrity golf tournament, the fact that Baltimore was looking for a new quarterback wasn’t exactly a foreign concept.
With veteran Steve McNair’s abrupt retirement, Boller’s inconsistent play since being picked in the first round five years ago and Smith having just two career starts, the position was bound to be addressed.
“I was pretty prepared for it, it’s one of those deals,” Boller said. “I was one of those guys five years ago. I’m happy for him. It’s a special time for him, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“Whatever I can do to help this team, I’m going to do it. I look forward to having him here, working with him.”
When Flacco joins Boller and Smith on the field next Friday at a mandatory full-team minicamp, the competition for the starting job will begin to emerge.
However, the biggest immediate challenge for all three candidates is absorbing the intricacies of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s playbook.
“It’s Troy against Troy and Troy against operating our offense, and Kyle against Kyle and Kyle against operating our offense,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “And it’s going to be Joe against Joe next week. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Smith won the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State and displayed flashes of potential last season that were encouraging to the locker room and the fan base.
Competing with Flacco, though, is a different situation altogether because of his blend of size (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) arm strength (75-yard spirals) and the large investment the Ravens have made in him.
Most of the Ravens, including Boller and Smith, seem unfamiliar with Flacco with the exception of wide receiver Mark Clayton watching him excel in a college football skills competition.
“He threw the ball a long way,” Clayton said.
From Smith’s standpoint, all he can control is how he plays and conducts himself.
“I can’t do anything about that, the organization has made a decision to go that route and I think it’s a good one,” said Smith, who initially called the newcomer John Flacco. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if the chance comes, Joe Flacco is going to be a good quarterback.”
With a distinct competitive streak, Smith, a fifth-round pick last year, isn’t going to concede anything to Flacco.
“I wouldn’t say I’m an underdog in any way,” Smith said.
Harbaugh has made it clear that he won’t hesitate to play Flacco if he feels like he’s progressing quickly enough. Gauging his readiness as well as determining whether Boller or Smith gives the team its best chance to win are the biggest factors involved.
There’s also the 20-20 hindsight from how Boller struggled as a rookie starter under former coach Brian Billick. Even Boller questions the wisdom of being inserted so quickly.
“I just don’t think I was ready to be playing,” Boller said. “Every guy’s situation is different. If it was me, I’d rather learn, but, at the same time, you want to play. There’s a lot of things I learned from starting, being thrown in there and adjusting and adapting. Some of the toughest times help you out.
“There was part of me that doubted I was ready, but I was 21 and ready to go. I felt like I was ready at the time, but knowing defenses now and just learning this offense, there’s a lot to learn, but I’m not going to say you can’t do it.”
For Boller and Smith, part of their job is mentoring Flacco, just as they used to receive counsel from McNair.
“I’m going to have to,” Smith said when asked about helping Flacco. “That’s where we excel as quarterbacks, having an understanding that we have to help the next guy.”
At some point, the Ravens must commit to one quarterback as their starter because it’s such a critical leadership position.
“That is important, but, at this point, everyone is kind of the same,” Clayton said. “It’s a new system, and it’s not an easy system by any means. We have all training camp to establish a starter.”
Harbaugh said he isn’t predisposed toward any particular quarterback, but acknowledged that the Ravens have some incentive for wanting Flacco to realize the potential that prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to trade up eight spots in the first round to acquire him.
“The quarterback of the future is going to be whoever gives us the best chance to win games,” Harbaugh said. “To say anything else or assume anything else, that would be a mistake except for the fact that when you have a first-round draft pick coming in here, that’s the expectation for him.
“We drafted him because we believe he can be that guy. If he’s going to be that guy, that’s up to him. We’ll find out.”