We're not sure how the normally stoic Jim Caldwell reacts when he's "tickled," but rest assured that the former Indianapolis Colts head coach and current Baltimore Ravens quarterback guru feels just that way, now that he's working with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, and with a perennial playoff contender.
"I am tickled to death." Caldwell told the team's official website on Monday, "Just to have an opportunity to see how things are done here in a great organization with outstanding coaches and obviously great players that have certainly been one of the paragons of this league."
Caldwell was the Colts' quarterbacks coach from 2002 through 2008 before replacing Tony Dungy as the team's head coach. He deserves some credit for the development of Peyton Manning, though the "set it and forget it" nature of Manning's excellence, and Manning's longtime relationship with offensive coordinator Tom Moore, had some wondering just how much. In any case, Caldwell is now tasked with the development of Flacco, a rocket-armed quarterback who came under fire from his own teammates before and after the Ravens were eliminated by the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.
"They had a lot of guys in the box on him and they were giving [the pass] to him," safety Ed Reed told SIRIUS NFL Radio. "I think a couple of times he needed to get rid of the ball. It just didn't look like he had a hold on the offense. I don't know how much of [that was] the play-calling … but it just didn't look like he had a hold on the offense, you know, of times past … It was just kind of like they [were] telling him [what] to do -- throw the ball or get it here, you know, get it to certain guys."
By the way, this was after the Ravens beat the Houston Texans in the divisional round.
But as we pointed out, the conservative nature of Baltimore's offense did Flacco no favors. Per Football Outsiders' game charting, the Ravens led the NFL in two-receiver sets by a fairly wide margin in 2011, and none of their receivers -- save young speedster Torrey Smith -- was capable of beating man coverage at the line or stretching the field.
Caldwell won't necessarily have veto power over the schemes put in place by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (much to the dismay of many Ravens fans), but he can take the tools Flacco has and make them more effective.
"Everybody's different," Caldwell said on Tuesday. "[Flacco] has his own strengths, and what we want to try to do is accentuate those. I'm not here to try to make him like any other quarterback in this league, like Peyton Manning or Brad Johnson or the other guys I've coached. That's not my goal. He is who he is. What we want to do is just help him perfect what he does well."
And what does he do well? According to Caldwell, you can start with his consistency.
"Joe's been able to show it for four years. He's continued to get better and lead his team to the playoffs. That's consistency. Every once in a while you will find a quarterback that will have one outstanding year and that's it. Every once in a while you'll find one that has two pretty good years. And that's it for their entire career. The individuals that can string them back to back to back to back and continue, that's what you look for in terms of performing at a very high level."
Caldwell had Flacco scouted to a degree through several meetings between Baltimore's current and former teams in recent years. "We knew he was dangerous because we knew he could make all the throws," the coach said. "He could make all the finesse throws, all the intermediate throws, and under duress. He's a tough guy to handle."
Flacco can indeed make all those throws, but to paraphrase Ricky Watters ... To who? And for what? After a decade of Manning excellence, Caldwell will have to solve those riddles for a team desperate to avenge a series of disappointing playoff losses in recent years. The franchise's first Super Bowl berth since the 2000 season could ride on Caldwell's ability to do so.