Along with a picture of him signing autographs, uploaded Tuesday, the final day of open training camp practice, Flacco wrote: “It’s been awesome getting to meet all the fans during training camp this year. Excited to give you guys a great season #broncoscountry”
Take a look:
Broncos Country hasn’t seen much of Flacco this preseason, save for his lone series in last week’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. But he’s instilled optimism in his command of the huddle and steadying of a position — a pretty important one — that Peyton Manning unsettled when he hung up his legendary cleats.
That he’s well received by a notoriously impatient majority who bleed blue and orange hasn’t gone unnoticed to Flacco. He experienced his true welcome-to-Denver moment when the team held its July 27 practice at Broncos Stadium at Mile High, and, to his surprise, fans were in full throat.
“It’s a lot of fun in here,” Flacco said. “I think the first time I ever stepped in here you could tell the energy this place has. To come out here on a hot summer afternoon and have these many people show up for what is most likely a boring practice is pretty cool. It’s a lot of support for us.”
Reason for Optimism
Intangibly, Flacco is a massive upgrade over predecessor Case Keenum in almost every way. And though some teammates flock to him for his ballyhooed arm strength, others stay for his collected demeanor — Joe Cool.
“Joe’s comfortable, he’s calm, he’s smooth and he knows what he’s doing,” running back Phillip Lindsay gushed after Sunday’s practice. “He makes everybody feel confident in the huddle and he’s mature, he’s an older dude and he’s a vet. He’s been through a lot. He’s a Super Bowl MVP; he won a Super Bowl. There is not more that man can do but help us get to another Super Bowl, and that’s our goal.”
The 34-year-old ex-Raven might be far removed from his MVP days, but there’s no denying he’s the Broncos’ best QB since Manning, which may say more about the Broncos than it does Flacco. Nevertheless, general manager John Elway believes he’s getting a passer in his prime, and Flacco’s provided a decent return on investment to this point.
“I think Joe’s getting more comfortable,” head coach Vic Fangio said July 27. “It’s a new team, new system. We all know he can throw well. I think he’s just got to get a little bit more efficient. Efficiency means a lot of things: throwing it to the right guy a little bit quicker; throwing it a little bit more accurate; getting more work with these routes and these receivers. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting better.”
Flacco’s Projected Impact
Thinking realistically rather than optimistically, Flacco’s stat ceiling falls in the 2,800-3,000-yard, 25-27-touchdown, six-to-eight-interception range. Which likely would be good enough to earn Denver a playoff spot; he’s the difference between 8-8 and 10-6 for a club with a smashmouth ground game and stifling defense.
The Broncos’ offense will be the sum of all its parts — its running backs, pass-catchers, and Flacco. But there’s an explosive element forming via the air, as walk-year WR Emmanuel Sanders, eight months removed from tearing his Achilles, has been Flacco’s favorite target in each of the last two practices.
“It’s coming, it’s coming,” Sanders said Tuesday of their chemistry. “Yesterday, he threw some dimes. He threw some dimes. He’s been throwing dimes. Today he threw me a couple of dimes and [QB] Drew [Lock] threw me a dime as well. So, the chemistry is coming. Everything is looking good. It’s all about just going out and just trying to master this offense so when Monday night comes around, we are putting up points. And we’re linking up on deep and trying to create explosive plays because that’s what it’s about. It’s not about the ‘Dink and Dunk.’ It’s about those explosion chunk plays—that’s what I know I have to bring to the table.”
For what it’s worth, ESPN predicted in April that Flacco will eclipse 4,000 passing yards this season. If the stars align, everybody stays healthy, and things go perfectly to plan, that just could materialize. Don’t go wagering your mortgage on it, however …
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter @KelbermanNFL