Rookie Flacco gets first taste of QB competition with Ravens

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Joe Flacco dropped back in the pocket, scanned the field, cocked his arm and tossed a spiral far downfield. Mark Clayton sprinted under the ball and made the catch in stride, one step ahead of the defender.

Ah, if only playing quarterback in the NFL was that easy. Instead of pumping his fist or showing any outward sign of pleasure, the first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens simply walked away from the line of scrimmage and awaited another opportunity.

"I'm just moving onto the next play. The last thing I'm thinking about is the play I just completed," Flacco said. "This is a new offense for me, and I'm worried about the next play and making sure I know what to do."

Flacco endured a steady rain during his first day on the job at the team's mandatory minicamp Friday. Wearing a red jersey with the No. 5, the 6-foot-6 rookie from the University of Delaware set out to prove he's worthy of the 18th overall pick in the NFL draft and capable of starting in his first season.

The first hurdle Flacco encountered was getting over the sense of awe that comes with being alongside some of the finest players in his profession.

"There's guys out there I've been watching on TV for who knows how many years now, and they're getting after it," he said. "This is football at a high level. You know that coming in, but you don't know what level it is. To go out there, get the first practice out of the way and really find out what it's about was really fun."

It might take a while before Flacco becomes entirely comfortable being around one of the most intimidating players in the league, a standout linebacker who makes a living chasing down quarterbacks.

"Yeah, it's definitely different to see Ray Lewis come into the locker room and be on your team. I'll get used to that, but I don't know if I am right now," Flacco said. "... He was just joking around with me, telling me he was going to get a pick off of me, all those kind of things. We'll see."

The competition between Flacco, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith will begin in earnest during training camp this summer. Now, all three are merely trying to get comfortable with a new head coach, John Harbaugh, a new offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, and an unfamiliar playbook.

Flacco showed surprising poise when he lined up behind center. On one play, he quickly rolled to his right after being flushed from the pocket and tossed a harmless incompletion out of bounds.

"He never changes his expression, I don't think. He seemed calm," Harbaugh said. "He had done a nice job the last couple of weeks getting in the notebook, getting with (quarterbacks coach) Hue Jackson every evening and every morning. So, he was prepared."

When the Ravens drafted Flacco, general manager Ozzie Newsome called him "the guy to lead our football team into the future." For years now, Baltimore has been looking for stability at the quarterback position. There are no guarantees that Flacco is that person, but he did at least make a good first impression.

"The one pass he threw to Mark, I think it was 50 yards down the field in the air, and he put it on target," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "The way he commanded the huddle, I think that speaks volumes for him. He's got to continue to do that. I think the more and more he's out there, the more and more he's around the guys, he'll get used to everybody and be more confident."

Clayton isn't playing favorites. Four of his seven career touchdown passes have come from Boller, and he got along well with Smith, who was a rookie last season. Clayton also likes what he saw in Flacco on Friday.

"He looked comfortable out there," Clayton said. "From my standpoint, we have three really good quarterbacks that can make all the throws. Long, short, touch, medium, power, they're all capable. I'm happy we have those three guys competing for the starting job here."

At this point, Flacco doesn't consider Boller or Smith to be competition. The main competition for Joe Flacco is, well, Joe Flacco.

"I'm not worried about anybody else. I don't think, through a competition even, you're not worried about what the other guys are doing. You're worried about going out there and playing your best football," he said. "You let things take care of themselves."

Notes: DE Terrell Suggs and OT Jonathan Ogden were the only veterans not in camp. Suggs has the franchise tag and Ogden is considering retirement. ... TE Quinn Sypniewski underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left knee and is likely out for the season. "It looks like now we're not going to have him back," Harbaugh said.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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