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Second-year wideout Torrey Smith was one of his quarterback’s biggest defenders in 2011. Smith often noted that Flacco had to work with a brand-new receiving unit, outside of Anquan Boldin, and start from scratch in building a rapport with them.

Two of Flacco’s favorite targets from 2008-10, Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, were released before the beginning of training camp in 2011. Those moves, combined with a lockout that prevented offseason workouts, forced Flacco to become familiar with a lot of new faces quickly.

“I’m on the Joe Flacco bandwagon,” Smith said. “He’s been taking control of the offense, and just the way the throws. He’s very consistent in his play, and it’s on us to play catch-up with him.”

In 2011, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford led the NFL with an average of 41 pass attempts a game. Flacco averaged 33 attempts per game but threw more than 30 passes only twice in Baltimore’s final seven regular-season games.

There’s an early emphasis for Flacco to throw more this year, with the Ravens running more plays from the line of scrimmage. Pitta believes the added plays will build better numbers, which will put Flacco in the conversation among the better quarterbacks in the NFL.

“It’s unfair to compare the statistics when you don’t know anything about the philosophy of the offenses,” Pitta said. “It’s going to be a better barometer this year for him to take himself into the elite category and throw the ball over the field.”

On his own

Flacco didn’t have to show up to any of the voluntary workouts this offseason. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Flacco would like to have a new deal.

Sometimes it’s tough to separate the business side from the game itself. Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson recently said part of his dismal 2011 season was due to worrying about a new contract.

Flacco has left the contract talks to his agent, Joe Linta, and has focused solely on football. The only practice time Flacco missed this offseason was for the birth of his first child, Stephen.

Before organized team activities began, Flacco and his receivers participated in throwing sessions at the team’s facility, during the same day a weightlifting period was scheduled.

The idea was to work on timing, something Flacco and the receivers struggled with at times a year ago.

“Joe has grown into being one of the best,” receiver LaQuan Williams said. “He doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he works so hard and pushes us.”

The Ravens fell short of advancing to the Super Bowl a season ago. The defense always will be a factor in the success of this team, especially as long as Reed and Ray Lewis remain members of it.

But with the time spent this offseason, and with the new direction on offense, Flacco could be poised for a breakout year.

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