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Prepared. Atlanta's pass-protection terminology and blocking schemes are the same as Ryan had as a BC senior, so right away he knew such technical elements as whether the tight end or the running back would pick up a stray blitzer. That allows him to immediately identify his hot receiver.
Trustworthy. Falcons wideouts have come to know that Ryan's passes will be delivered on time and on target if they run their routes properly. The rookie consistently throws the ball to spots before his receivers come out of their breaks, rather than waiting to see precisely where the break comes. This prevents cover corners from getting a bead on Ryan's passes. Result: only seven interceptions, an alltime low for any rookie through 13 starts.
Commanding. Don't be fooled by Ryan's altar-boy looks. In his first full practice with the veterans he got the call from coordinator Mike Mularkey—twin go patterns—then stepped into the huddle with the starting offense and delivered a salty play call. "Let me think of the cleaned-up version," Ryan says. "I said, 'I'm going to throw it out there, and you better catch it.'?" The pass was complete to White for a touchdown. "Sent chills down my spine," says Mularkey, who heard and saw it all.
Unflappable. The No. 18 pick out of Delaware is neither as outgoing nor as vocal a leader as Ryan, but he is coolheaded. "He never blinked in camp," says veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, every QB's nightmare, "no matter how much we threw at him or how much pressure he saw."
Pro-ready. The fact that Flacco regularly operated out of the shotgun in college was a mark against him in the eyes of many scouts—but not to Cameron. "I saw it as a huge positive," the coach says. "He'd be [in the shotgun] a lot in the NFL. It helped him read blitzes and, with so much A-gap [up-the-middle] blitzing now, gives him more time to throw." Another purported drawback was Flacco's long windup, but Cameron hasn't tinkered with it because the rookie has been efficient. In the Ravens' current 7--1 stretch Flacco has 12 touchdown passes and three interceptions.
Highly mobile. A surprising part of Flacco's game is his ability to gain yardage while scrambling—119 yards in the last seven games, while taking only 11 sacks in that span behind a mostly inexperienced line. "We drafted him because he was something rare: a big man with a smaller man's quickness," says Cameron.
Opportunistic. Second-year man Troy Smith was slated to be Baltimore's starter, but on the morning of the team's third preseason game, at St. Louis, Smith was ill with a virus. Flacco, who wasn't supposed to see action that night, instead played the entire game. At the Rams' 15-yard line early in the third quarter he and wideout Derrick Mason read their defensive keys correctly on a blitz; on the run Flacco threw a fade to the corner of the end zone that dropped right into Mason's hands. "That was what I needed to see," says Mason, "to know we had something special."
Ryan and Flacco have a fan in Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. "Both of those guys should be good for a long time," he says. "What I like about them is they don't make the big mistake, and haven't from the first game. That's rare in rookie quarterbacks."
Coaches throughout the league, including Cameron, hope the duo's immediate success is a sign that more smart young quarterbacks are on the way.