Preston's observations: Bart Starr, like Johnny Unitas, came from an era of tough-guy quarterbacks

When former Green Bay Packers and Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr died Sunday at age 85, it brought back memories of the “tough” quarterback.

Granted, when Starr and former Baltimore Colts quarterback John Unitas were playing in the 1960s, I watched the game through the eyes of an elementary school student. That perspective changes into adulthood, but back then, they were blood-and-guts warriors.


Watching Unitas and Starr play was special because they weren’t that big, and they took major abuse on Sunday afternoons when there was no such thing as today’s version of a late hit on a quarterback.

Both Unitas and Starr were 6 feet 1 and around 195 pounds, and they just looked so small in those tiny shoulder pads. They’d get crushed, shake it off and then light up the opposing team with some great touch passes on deep flag routes.


I never met Starr, but I interviewed him once over the phone. He was polite, cordial and extremely pleasant, unlike Unitas, who had a rough outer shell that had to be broken through before he felt comfortable.

Starr played in the 1960s at a time when life and the game seemed so simple. The NFL had their stars, but they weren’t bigger than life. Head coach Vince Lombardi was the driving force behind those great Green Bay teams, and Starr was their leader.

He didn’t seem to have any pretenses. He didn’t wear the big fur coats or have the outrageous personality. All of his teammates seemed to speak highly of him.

On the field, Starr made plays in an offense that was run-oriented, but he still completed 1,808 of 3,149 pass attempts for 24,718 yards and 152 touchdowns. He finished with a quarterback rating of 80.5 and five NFL titles, as well as two Super Bowl trophies.

Like Unitas, Starr wasn’t the prototype. He played in an era with other tough quarterbacks named Fran Tarkenton and Earl Morrall. Were they tougher than today’s quarterbacks?

Probably not, but it depends on whose eyes you are looking through.

Linebackers in spotlight

The linebacker positions will draw the most attention when the Ravens start training camp in late July, especially on the outside.

The Ravens have to find a starting middle linebacker and a more consistent starter on the weak side, but the top priority will be finding pass rushers to replace Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith.


The Ravens have two youngsters competing for playing time on the outside in third-year players Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser.

The Ravens also recently signed free agents Shane Ray and Pernell McPhee. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said last week that he was impressed with the two.

“Great competition,” Harbaugh said. “That’s one example. It’s not just that position. It’s a lot of positions where we have good competition, but that certainly made it more interesting over there, and those two guys are both in really good shape. They both came in, and obviously, they were preparing and training for when their opportunity would come.

“You get in a situation like that, and you don’t always know when it’s going to come, and not everybody does a good job of that. They looked good.”

Harbaugh also said he liked the fact that inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor was working on his communication skills and trying to become more of a team leader. If he plays in the middle, Onwuasor will have to make more of the calls for the rest of the defense.

“We always say, ‘A good defense is a loud defense,’ ” Harbaugh said. “We want to communicate on the highest possible level, even to a much-exaggerated level, because we want to make sure we’re on the same page. Our whole defense has done that as an A, A-plus type of grade.”


Jackson’s hand placement

Too much is being made about what second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson looks like after the first week of OTAs. Right now, it’s hard to tell, and there won’t be any good indications until training camp starts.

That’s when all the veterans will be in place. The pace and tempo of practices increase, and it becomes closer to a game situation.

Right now, the Ravens are just trying to get their base offense down and work on replacing key figures in a defense that was ranked No. 1 at the end of last season.

One interesting note is that Jackson finally admitted to having a hand placement problem, which was clearly noticeable last season. When asked what are the keys to throwing a tight spiral, Jackson said: “I would say my hand placement. I feel like my hand is a little too high on the football sometimes, and that makes the ball go out of whack sometimes. A lot — not sometimes — a lot.”

Yes, sometimes his passes last season looked like wounded ducks.

Filling leadership void

With Suggs, safety Eric Weddle and middle linebacker C.J. Mosley leaving for other teams during free agency, there will be a lot of questions about the Ravens’ leadership.


But the Ravens picked up some players in free agency like safety Earl Thomas and running back Mark Ingram II who are likely to be leaders.

Ingram isn’t a follower and is already talking about working with the younger running backs. That’s a good sign.

“Matt Weiss [running backs coach] is getting us right, getting us ready to go,” Ingram said. “We’ve got a good room, good team, and good competition going on offense and defense, so we’ve been getting better.”

Meanwhile, third-year cornerback Marlon Humphrey says it is time for some of the younger players to step up as well.

“We’ve definitely lost a lot of key guys, and guys that kind of led the team last year,” Humphrey said. “There are a lot of stories you’ve seen about new faces on the Ravens, but you guys see a lot of new faces, and I see a lot of new opportunities.

“A lot of guys, especially in my draft class and the class last year, are stepping into bigger roles — including myself — so, I look forward to that as an opportunity and for new guys to make plays and make names for themselves.”