Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
But he found instant success in 2008 at the league's most difficult position, and now he is one of the NFL's fastest-rising quarterbacks.
Whether it's popularity or expectations, a lot has changed for Flacco heading into his second season. During Baltimore's full-squad minicamp, Flacco sat down with ESPN.com to discuss, among other things, avoiding the sophomore jinx, his brother's quest to reach the major leagues, and the importance of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Joe, I noticed Ray Lewis trash-talks you and the offense for two hours in practice, then he will come in the locker room and pat you on the back or wrap his arm around you with a big smile on his face. What kind of relationship do the two of you have?
Flacco: I think the way Ray is with me is the way he is with everybody else on the team. He's been a leader of this football team for a while. We're able to joke around with him, and he's also able to be serious. I think the whole defense makes your game better, because they're all so good at what they do.
You avoid the spotlight and endorsements more than most NFL quarterbacks. Why?
Flacco: I have no idea. I don't think I purposefully try to avoid it. I think that's just the way I am. What I choose to do reflects who I am. I don't get too many [endorsements]. But there are certain things that I enjoy doing, and there are certain things that I don't really need to be bothered with. It's a case-by-case thing. I'm sure if I continue to do well, I will get a little bit more and will have to make more decisions on some things. But right now, I really don't get that much. I'm still young and I'm still early in my career.
So you don't see yourself eventually advertising products like other quarterbacks, maybe a cologne ad in GQ magazine?
Flacco: (Laughs) Nah. I'd be very embarrassed. It would probably be awkward for me to do that. I have no idea what's going to happen 12 years from now. But right now I'd probably be embarrassed to do that kind of thing.
When you watch other NFL quarterbacks, what do you look for that makes them successful?
Flacco: It's being able to stand in the pocket and make good decisions. It's pretty much pocket movement and avoiding the pressure, while on the same end being able to make good decisions and not throwing interceptions to put your team in bad positions.
Flacco: I didn't get a chance to watch him too much. But they had a great year down there. Obviously he has a lot of confidence, which I like to believe I do. He's accurate, he's willing to stand in there, and he made a lot of good decisions. Those are all the things you need to have in order to be a good quarterback. I don't really know specifically the similarities and differences, but obviously he's done a good job and all the guys on the team respect him.
Are you happy for your brother, Mike, to be healthy again and playing minor-league baseball?
Flacco: Definitely. He's gotten a chance to play some baseball and we will see. He got a chance to play in front of some people [pro scouts], and he's playing well. So we will see what happens with him.
Who is the better athlete?
Flacco: I'm not going to say I'm not a better athlete. But growing up he was always a really good athlete. He was the best athlete around. He's two years younger than me, and he was always hanging out with me and my buddies and was a lot better than all of us. So he's always been a really good athlete and he could really do a lot of things.
OK, since you play football and Mike plays baseball, who wins a one-on-one basketball game?
Flacco: (Laughs) Oh, I would win it. He would tell you that he would win it. But he's a pretty good basketball player. He could definitely dunk better than I can. But I could still beat him in a one-on-one game.
How does Joe Flacco avoid the dreaded sophomore slump in 2009?
Flacco: Well, the way I avoid it is I think I'm a good player. I'm always going to come in and prepare and get ready for each week. I feel like, as long as you truly are a good player, then you can't go out and have a bad season. You may have games here or there where you're not really too pleased with the way you played. But I think I'm going to do nothing but improve, and I think the team is going to do nothing but improve. That is what this [minicamp] is for -- to see how much we've grown, and how much we got to do by training camp and by the time the season starts.
The success of a quarterback and head coach usually is tied closely together. So how would you describe your dynamic with Ravens coach John Harbaugh?
Flacco: I'm trying to make everybody on this team successful, and I'm trying to do my part just like everybody else. Coach Harbaugh came in as my first head coach, and we have a great amount of respect for him. When he came in he told us how it was, and any time a coach can come up to you and be pretty real with you, you respect that. I think a lot of guys took to him, and I think that's why we had a good year last year.
I'm sure it's important to beat every team. But as the quarterback of the Ravens, how important is it this year to beat your biggest rival in Pittsburgh?
Flacco: The most important thing is win enough games to get into the playoffs. Then, once you get into the playoffs, win. Having said that, we're going to play Pittsburgh two times a year so it's pretty important to beat them. A lot of getting into the playoffs will have to do with what we do against Pittsburgh. We believe that we're the toughest team in the league, and they probably believe the same. Obviously, they beat us three times last year. But we're going to get a lot of chances to play against them, and we know if we go out there and play our game then we will come out on top.
Last question: I'm sure you're aware of what Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did in his second year. As a second-year quarterback, any thoughts?
Flacco: Good for him (laughs). But it has nothing to do with what we're doing. He was obviously successful in his first year and very successful in his second year. All I can say is that if we work hard and we do what we're supposed to do, I think we're a team that can get to where they got as a team. But it's going to be up to us.