For a player who has a well documented history of being disrespected by the media, quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t faced a ton of true adversity throughout his ten year NFL career.
Sure, he was forced to start as a rookie, has battled several injuries recently, and has sometimes struggled with a poor supporting cast. However, when the only tangible long term struggle you’ve ever gone through is local radio hosts and national talking heads debating whether or not you are elite, it’s probably fair to say you haven’t been especially challenged over the years.
That isn’t the case anymore though. Flacco now faces more scrutiny than he has in a very long time, and the pressure to perform is on him more than it maybe ever has been.
The reasons for this are two fold and deeply interwoven: The first being his subpar play over the past several seasons. The second is the drafting of Lamar Jackson, which was directly caused by the first.
It’s a tough reality for a guy who has had a ton of success in Baltimore, not the least of which includes a Super Bowl ring and several deep playoff runs. In any event, reports out of Baltimore’s early offseason programs seem to indicate that Flacco realizes that he’s on notice.
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley reports from the team facility that there is a marked difference in the way the typically cool handed veteran approaches the reps he gets as well as the work he’s been putting on when off of the clock:
“The drafting of Jackson in the first round and the free-agent signing of Griffin has led to a more driven Flacco this offseason. He’s leaner and trimmer than he has ever been, although no one has ever accused Flacco of being out of shape. If he misses a throw -- which has been rare this spring -- you can hear Flacco angrily slapping his hands. And Flacco has been more engaged with his receivers before and after drills.”
A lot of the improvements he’s seemingly made harken back to the usual criticisms that Flacco would face in the past; that he isn’t engaged, he isn’t the leader that other quarterbacks are, and that his average level of play is commensurate with his supposed lack of commitment. That seems to be different now with Flacco being visibly frustrated with his mistakes, and with him verbally committing to get together with his new receivers on off days.
Talk of a more engaged and vocal Flacco is both interesting and encouraging. It’s perfectly timed with the Jackson situation arising and also when considering this is the veteran’s first fully healthy training camp in over two years.
Heading into 2016 he was adjusting to a repaired ACL, and last offseason was almost a complete wash due to the back injury he suffered early on. Hensley noted that Flacco could be another Alex Smith, meaning that he comes in ready to shoot the lights out in 2018 after his successor was drafted in the first round.
If he plans on starting the full season, and potentially sticking around beyond the end of it, he’ll need to have a rennaissance reminiscent of Smith’s. While it’s early yet, the indication seems to be that Flacco is trending towards one; let’s hope that he does for not only his sake, but also for the sake of a team that needs to make a playoff push this season.