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Mike Preston: Tyler Huntley — not Trace McSorley — is the ideal backup to quarterback Lamar Jackson | COMMENTARY

The battle for the backup quarterback job in Baltimore between Tyler Huntley and Trace McSorley promises to be intriguing, but it might not be much of a contest.

Based off Organized Team Activities and three days of mandatory mini-camp practices, Huntley clearly distanced himself from McSorley as the No. 2 behind starter Lamar Jackson, who was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2019.

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Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta will say both candidates have an opportunity heading into training camp and preseason, and that’s expected because they want to bring out the best in both as well as push Jackson. But at this point, it’s Huntley’s job to lose.

Of course, you’re probably wondering why there is so much interest in the backup position?

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The No. 2 job becomes a priority when the starter is an aging quarterback, which the Ravens don’t have, or is injury prone, which isn’t a problem, or scrambles a lot out of the pocket.

Bingo.

In three seasons, Jackson has thrown 947 passes and rushed the ball 482 times. The Ravens downplay the number of hits Jackson takes in a season and argue that he has a better chance of getting hurt in the pocket than on the run, but the key elements here are risk and exposure. Whenever a quarterback leaves the pocket there is a greater chance of injury, and the Ravens are willing to gamble.

So, there has to be a focus on the backup if Jackson gets hurt. In the NFL, the proper phrase is “next man up.”

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That leaves us with Huntley and McSorley, but not after these offseason practices. It’s Huntley unless he bombs in the preseason.

Almost a year ago, McSorley, the team’s sixth-round pick out of Penn State in 2019, finished the preseason as the No. 3 behind Jackson and Robert Griffin III even though Huntley threw better in training camp. Because of the coronavirus, preseason games were canceled, which gave McSorley the advantage as far as experience with Huntley being an undrafted rookie free agent out of Utah in 2020.

Both players took advantage of opportunities at key moments last season. There were two for McSorley, but the highlight came against Pittsburgh in Week 12. With Jackson on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and Griffin leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, McSorley led the team on their two final possessions, one of which ended on a 70-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown. The Ravens lost, 19-14, but McSorley earned his teammates’ trust.

Huntley also had his moments playing the entire fourth quarter of a 17-3 playoff loss to Buffalo. After Jackson suffered a concussion on the final play of the third quarter, Huntley showed his speed and scrambled 19 yards on his first play. Later in the game, he connected with Brown on a 29-yard completion on a third and 16.

Both players provided enough of a glimpse for the coaching staff to determine that Griffin was no longer needed, and they were viable options to replace Jackson.

And then came these offseason practices.

Mike Preston writes Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, pictured working out during the team's Organized Team Activities on May 26, is the ideal backup to Lamar Jackson at quarterback.
Mike Preston writes Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, pictured working out during the team's Organized Team Activities on May 26, is the ideal backup to Lamar Jackson at quarterback. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Huntley’s body language was different compared to a year ago. He had a swag. There were times when he threw some passes in tiny holes with such velocity that even reporters bristled. When he threw sidelines passes, they were high and tight where only his receivers could make the catch.

Truth be told, his arm strength and touch on the long ball were better than Jackson’s. And there were times when Huntley got outside the pocket and started that mad sprint down the sideline where it was hard to recognize if it was Huntley or Jackson because both wore their jersey’s inside out.

McSorley is a tough kid and a competitor. Of the three quarterbacks, McSorley throws the better and most tight passes inside the red zone. It’s in this area where one can tell he was well coached in college.

But when selecting the backup, the team needs a quarterback that is similar to the starter where a lot of changes don’t need to be made in the offense. They also need a player who can improvise because of the lack of repetitions. In the case of both players, the Ravens wouldn’t have to make wholesale offensive changes, but Huntley is a better runner in an offense predicated on a running quarterback.

Plus, the Ravens are getting a bonus. Huntley set Utah school records in career completion percentage (.672), single season completion percentage (.730) and passing efficiency (177.55).

In this age of mobile quarterbacks, the Ravens got another model in Huntley. His skill set is similar to Jackson’s, which makes him an ideal fit for this offense.

Or at least good enough to be the top backup.

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