Re­luc­tant El­lis turn­ing the cor­ner

Once hes­i­tant about mak­ing switch from re­ceiver, CB hit­ting stride

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

COL­LEGE PARK – Early on in his foot­ball de­vel­op­ment, Tino El­lis was told that he should think about switch­ing from wide re­ceiver to cor­ner­back.

First it was his fa­ther, Chuck, who coached the younger of his two sons on a youth foot­ball team in Gam­brills. It was in a league not limited by size and the younger El­lis, who was around 5-foot-9 at age 13, had to play against 6-foot-2 re­ceivers.

“I told him that you’ll prob­a­bly end up play­ing cor­ner at some point, so just pre­pare your­self to make the switch,” the el­der El­lis re­called this week. “He did a good job at it and I kind of knew. He just re­sisted be­cause he liked play­ing with the ball in his hands.”

Then it was Aazaar Ab­dul-Rahim, who trained El­lis and other young teenage play­ers in Bal­ti­more and Wash­ing­ton while he was the coach at Friend­ship Col­le­giate Academy, a pro­gram that be- Satur­day, noon TV: BTN Ra­dio: 105.7 FM; 980 AM Line: Mary­land by 251⁄

Mean­while, af­ter a 5-6 sea­son (3-5 CAA) in 2017, the Tigers over­hauled their of­fen­sive schemes. Coach Rob Am­brose and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor (and younger brother) Jared Am­brose scoured the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion land­scape for a quar­ter­back who would fit what they were seek­ing to ac­com­plish.

“The rea­son he’s here is I wasn’t happy with where we were at the quar­ter­back po­si­tion by the end of spring,” Rob Am­brose said. “I was happy with where we were go­ing in gen­eral, but I didn’t think we were get­ting ev­ery­thing that we could out of that po­si­tion. Tom was the per­fect plug-and-play. Skill-wise and in­tel­lec­tu­ally, he al­ready gets this. Per­son­al­i­ty­wise, with me, him and my brother, it didn’t take me long to see that he was the right kind of guy for us.”

The feel­ing is mu­tual for Flacco, who was se­lected by the Philadel­phia Phillies in the 32nd round of the 2014 Ma­jor League Base­ball draft and played spar­ingly while at Western Michi­gan.

“This sea­son, fi­nally there’s a coach­ing staff that trusted me and gave me the keys,” he said. “That’s what it was.”

With Flacco un­der cen­ter, Tow­son’s of­fense has run the no-hud­dle al­most ex­clu­sively, paus­ing only for time­outs and when op­po­nents are in­jured. He threw for a ca­reer-high four touch­downs Satur­day in the rout of the Sea­wolves, which oc­curred one week af­ter he ran for a school-recordby-a-quar­ter­back 185 yards and two scores in a 44-27 dis­man­tling of The Ci­tadel.

Although he is try­ing to dis­tance him­self from the idea that he is a run­ning quar­ter­back, Flacco is not afraid to use his arm and legs to con­trib­ute to his team’s suc­cess.

“I’m go­ing to do what­ever I need to do in what­ever week it is,” he said. “Last week, I ran for a bunch of yards. What­ever it takes to win. I’m not re­ally try­ing to prove any­thing. I do have a chip on my shoul­der, but other­wise, it’s just about win­ning. We’re go­ing to con­tinue to prove peo­ple wrong be­cause peo­ple keep doubt­ing us for what­ever rea­son, and that’s just go­ing to hap­pen no mat­ter how we play. But I’m not think­ing about that.”

Said Am­brose: “Tom’s an ath­letic guy play­ing quar­ter­back, and nor­mally those guys are more run-around guys than any­thing else, and when they throw, some­times it can be good and some­times it’s not. He’s a passer who’s ath­letic. There’s a dif­fer­ence. He’s not a thrower. He’s a passer, and that’s re­ally dan­ger­ous. Whenyou have a quar­ter­back who can run a lit­tle bit and you’re play­ing foot­ball with all 11 and not just a pocket passer, if I’m a de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, that’s kind of scary.”

Am­brose quipped he would not like to be an op­pos­ing de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor pre­par­ing for the Tigers of­fense. In the same vein, red­shirt ju­nior run­ning back Shane Simp­son called the of­fense un­der Flacco “def­i­nitely dif­fer­ent.”

“He’s so dy­namic,” Simp­son said. “He can throw, but also he can run. So you don’t know what he’s go­ing to do. He’s def­i­nitely great for our of­fense.”

Many peo­ple may as­sume that Flacco has the ad­van­tage of lean­ing on his older brother for his foot­ball ex­per­tise. But Joe said the two tend to dis­cuss non-foot­ball sub­jects if his younger brother is not chas­ing af­ter his neph­ews and nieces.

“I don’t think he mod­els any­thing off of any­body,” the el­der brother said, dis­miss­ing the no­tion that his play­ing style has been the stan­dard for Tom. “He’s just out there play­ing and do­ing what he does.”

Be­ing named the STATS FCS Na­tional Of­fen­sive Player of the Week af­ter his per­for­mance against The Ci­tadel has helped Flacco emerge on a na­tional scale, but he has never lacked con­fi­dence that he is ca­pa­ble of mak­ing an im­pact for a team that trusted him to do so.

“I’ve known what I can do, and I’m fi­nally like, ‘All right,’ ” he said. “So this is not sur­pris­ing to me at all. The way th­ese guys work on of­fense, the way our whole of­fense worked in the sum­mer, no, this is not a shock at all. This is what we saw, and we see big­ger things, too.”

Stony Brook coach Chuck Pri­ore left Johnny Uni­tas Sta­dium im­pressed with what he saw from Flacco.

“He’s very in­stinc­tive,” Pri­ore said. “He does a lot with his feet, but he’s got a sur­round­ing cast that’s play­ing well also. Their re­ceiver, [red­shirt ju­nior Shane Leather­bury], is a good player, their run­ning backs are good play­ers. He ex­tended drives. If you look at the out­come of this game, I think we’re all go­ing to be wrong if we say it’s just about Tom Flacco be­cause it’s an 11-man game and I don’t think Tow­son will do that ei­ther. I think it’s about their en­tire team. But he’s a good player cer­tainly, and they’re ex­cited about watch­ing him.”

GRE­GORY SHAMUS/GETTY IM­AGES

Mary­land cor­ner­back Tino El­lis works to de­fend Michi­gan wide re­ceiver Nico Collins dur­ing Satur­day’s game in Ann Ar­bor. El­lis leads the Terps with seven pass breakups.

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