Optimism Running High for Joe Flacco, with or Without Derrick Mason

Geoff PeckhamContributor IJuly 21, 2009

OWINGS MILLS, MARYLAND - MAY 8: Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens talks during minicamp at the practice facility on May 8, 2009 in Owings Mills, Maryland. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Getty Images)

The newest Reebok Fantasy Files commercial features Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco at a skeet shooting range. As the the discs are shot up in the air, the young quarterback substitutes the shotgun for his gun of an arm, breaking two clay discs with his pinpoint spirals.

As the spot ends, Flacco looks directly into the camera and speaks in his typical cool demeanor what Baltimore fans are all hoping holds true in 2009.

“Last year was just the beginning.”

Ravens fans and NFL fans in general are likely to be impressed with the feat, and even more impressed to see it’s a Baltimore quarterback gaining some attention for once. But the optimism Charm City had for 2009 took a significant hit when veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason announced his intention to retire, not more than two weeks before training camp was scheduled to begin.

That doesn’t mean hopes have diminished for the season.

A second year under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s system, an improved offensive line, and Flacco’s individual talent and improvement could lead to big things for the former Blue Hen.

"I think as a football player, he’s really going to take a giant leap forward,” said Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post. Lombardi spoke of Hall-of-Fame head coach Bill Walsh’s assertion that quarterbacks often make drastic improvements in their sophomore seasons.

Still, 1,000-yard receivers are hard to come by in the NFL. Mason was Flacco’s security blanket in 2008, registering 80 receptions for 1,037 yards, well ahead of the rest of Baltimore’s receiving corps. The 35-year-old’s season could be considered even more gutsy considering he played with an injured shoulder for the latter half of the season.

Mason has yet to file his retirement papers with the NFL, and Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh told reporters he was scheduled to meet with the receiver in the coming week, but the Ravens have already taken steps to fill the potential void, confirming they intend to hold a tryout with four veteran wideouts, including D.J. Hacket, formerly of the Carolina Panthers.

Flacco, meanwhile, will have the likes of Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, and Marcus Smith to throw to. Though their names don’t inspire confidence in most, the Ravens coaching staff has faith that the trio has the potential to step up and produce.

That’s the magic word for the Ravens’ offense in the season of the decade: potential. Flacco made history in his first season in the pros, becoming the first rookie quarterback to win two playoff games.

If Mason’s absence sticks, it will be a blow, but not as crushing as it may seem. With their first young promising signal-caller in franchise history, Baltimore isn’t about to lose sight of the prize because of one player’s decision.