OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Joe Flacco eased back into the pocket, surveyed the field and lofted a pass that zipped 50 yards through the air into the waiting arms of rookie receiver Chris Moore.
The scene, which once might have been taken for granted, was noteworthy because of the brace affixed to the quarterback’s left knee.
Flacco practiced with his Baltimore Ravens teammates Thursday for the first time since he tore his ACL and MCL last November. Not every pass was as impressive as the one to Moore, but hey, he was plenty sharp enough to get through the opening day of training camp.
“I felt great,” Flacco said after the 2 1/2-hour session. “I thought I could have thrown the ball a little better, but physically felt good, mentally I felt good.”
Now in his ninth season, Flacco set an NFL record by starting 137 straight games (including playoffs) to start his career. The run ended when he was struck in the knee in the midst of a frantic fourth-quarter drive that produced a 16-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 22.
Surgery followed, and Flacco could only watch as the Ravens stumbled to a 5-11 finish.
Now he’s back behind center, eager to compete again but wary of how he might react when being chased by a few overeager opponents looking to increase their sack total.
“I’ve been doing a bunch of running and all that stuff the whole time, but I didn’t hurt my knee running,” Flacco said. “It was a contact injury, and I haven’t had to deal with any of those issues. I haven’t had to deal with people being around me while I’m stepping and throwing. I assume that might take a little bit of an adjustment, but I’m not too worried about it.”
The plan is to keep Flacco out of harm’s way until it’s absolutely necessary. He probably won’t start in the preseason opener against Carolina on Aug. 11 and will likely be used sparingly until the Ravens launch the regular season at home against Buffalo on Sept. 11.
Flacco, 31, owns nearly every team passing record — including most yardage (28,322), touchdowns (162) and completions (2,479). He helped Baltimore reach the playoffs in six of his first seven seasons and was the MVP of the Super Bowl after directing the Ravens to a win over San Francisco in February 2013.
Following his knee injury, Flacco vowed to be ready for the first day of training camp. And there he was, flipping passes of varying lengths to a variety of receivers as if he’d never been gone.
“One to (tight end Dennis) Pitta across the middle was just a great throw. Only great quarterbacks can make that throw,” safety Eric Weddle said. “He looked good, he seemed confident. You couldn’t tell he had surgery in the offseason. It’s definitely a positive sign.”
After surviving for years in the most vulnerable position on the field, Flacco didn’t enjoy watching his team play — and mostly lose — without him. But he made the most of the experience, and maybe learned a thing or two.
“It’s not the end of the world. I missed a handful of games, and it didn’t feel good,” he said. “But there are a lot of good things that come out of it. You just have to look at yourself in the mirror every day and go to work, go to work, go to work, and work toward that goal of getting back out onto the field.
“Every day with this rehab you would get up, come in and accomplish something. Accomplishing something every day is good for your confidence. It makes you feel good about yourself.”
When he was finally done with all those months of working his way back, Flacco actually found himself looking forward to the grind of training camp.
“It’s kind of fun for me to come back and really go out there and sling it around,” he said. “Of course, it’s still training camp. You’re going to have your days when you’re talking to your guys and coming up with all kinds of stuff as to why you don’t want to be here right now. But that’s just a part of the game.”
Notes: RB Lorenzo Taliaferro was placed on the PUP list with a foot injury. “He’s not quite there yet,” coach John Harbaugh said. … WR Mike Wallace and CB Jerraud Powers failed to pass the conditioning test and were not allowed to practice.
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