Purple Reign 2 excerpt here: How to find a franchise quarterback

April 25, 2013 | Nestor Aparicio

During the first week of the college football schedule when he traveled from State College, Pennsylvania to see Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli and over to Villanova in Philadelphia for a half a day, he wound up in Newark at the University of Delaware to see Flacco.

Normally, scouts watch tape in advance before seeing a player in person. With Flacco, Douglas hadn’t watched any tape. It was the first week of September 2007, right after Delaware beat William & Mary 49-31 in a game where Flacco went 19-of-23 for 202 with one TD and his running back Omar Cuff ran for six touchdowns. Flacco was a Division I-AA quarterback. Quite frankly, most of them don’t warrant a lot of scouting as NFL prospects. Douglas just wanted to see him throw for the first time in person and figured he’d watch the tape after practice.

“The first thing you notice is that he’s a big guy,” Douglas said. “He looked thin from far away, but then you stood next to him and thought, ‘He’s a sturdy guy, maybe 235 pounds.’”

Delaware coach K.C. Keeler, who Douglas knew from his Richmond battles, always looked to get his kids some NFL attention and make them draft worthy. Or at least get them a look as an undrafted free agent. Over the years, Delaware has put a handful of players into the NFL, most notably a Super Bowl quarterback in Rich Gannon, who graduated in 1987 and spent 17 years in the league.

Keeler, knowing why a Ravens scout was attending practice, took one look at Big Joe D and said, “You’re going to like this practice. I treat every practice like a quarterback workout.”

Douglas stood on the sideline as Flacco threw 45 balls in 15 different routes and was immediately impressed. “You could see that this guy had a big-time arm and also had nice touch. The physical things jumped out immediately.”

Douglas liked Flacco, so eight weeks later he was excited about the good fortune at having this rare “day/night quarterback doubleheader” at a drivable distance on a Saturday in the fall between Newark and College Park. And, as a bonus, he’d get to see both of his key quarterbacks and have a chance to evaluate them within hours of each other.

Weidl and Douglas arrived early in Newark to sniff around. Getting inside information was the reason they were there. One of the Delaware assistants, Ben Albert, was a coach at Richmond when Douglas played and pulled him aside for some thoughts on Flacco. “This kid will never embarrass you, Joe,” Albert told Douglas. “He’s an unbelievable competitor, and the physical ability will speak for itself. Without him, we’d be in rough shape.”

Two weeks earlier, Douglas’ boss, Eric DeCosta finally had his eyes opened to Flacco in Annapolis, and was happy that Douglas was seeing Flacco in Newark and would be bringing that energy on the ride to College Park later in the day to see Matt Ryan. But, at that point, DeCosta was in love with the gunslinger from Boston College and as the Ravens’ season was going down the drain on the field the possibility of picking high enough to get him in April increased with every purple loss in Baltimore.

“I was trying to get my mind off Matt Ryan and my target was seeing Maryland play Clemson at College Park, but that game wasn’t until 3 o’clock,” DeCosta said about the afternoon of October 27, 2007. “Navy played Delaware at noon, so I figured I’d go to Annapolis for a little while, see a little bit of the game and then bust my butt to get to College Park before kickoff.”

DeCosta ran into Ravens’ team photographer Phil Hoffman on the sidelines at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium late in the morning. He said, “Why are you looking at Navy players?” DeCosta just smiled and changed the topic.

Ten minutes later, he bumped into sportswriter John Feinstein, who chronicled the Ravens’ 2004 season in the behind-the-scenes book “Next Man Up,” and who knew DeCosta wouldn’t be in Annapolis on a whim. “What are you doing here?” Feinstein prodded. “You’re not here to see Navy players. You’re here to look at the Delaware quarterback, aren’t you? I hear he’s good.”

DeCosta conceded, “Yeah, I’m just going to check him out a little.”

When DeCosta got to the press box he ran into Ron Wolf, the long-time general manager of the Green Bay Packers who spent a lifetime in the NFL as far back as Al Davis and the AFL in the 1960’s with the Oakland Raiders

“You’re here to find your triggerman, aren’t you,” Wolf howled at DeCosta. “It’s all shotgun, all no huddle today!” Wolf, the sage veteran, had clearly already done his homework on Joe Flacco.

Flacco made it worth the drive for DeCosta and all who attended in Annapolis that afternoon.

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