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Preston: The Ravens do not need to rush Lamar Jackson

The Baltimore Sun

The hope is that rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson doesn’t have to play much, if at all, this season.

If he does, that’s not a good sign. It would indicate that starter Joe Flacco has been hurt or is playing poorly. And if that’s the case then the Ravens are in trouble and any postseason aspirations are gone. Then the coach and his staff might be fired, too.

That’s too much drama.

If the Ravens want success, they need a quiet season and certainly no quarterback controversy. But it’s probably going to happen: Jackson vs. Flacco.

Somehow coach John Harbaugh has to try to stop this from happening. But there hasn’t been a more polarizing sports figure in Baltimore in recent years than Flacco. He is like the Russians — he gets blamed for everything from dropped passes to lack of scoring to lack of leadership.

The new savior arrived in town when the Ravens drafted Jackson, the Louisville quarterback, in the first round Thursday night. He is the new prototypical quarterback in the NFL. He is big, strong and fast enough to make plays outside the pocket, which makes him ideal for run-pass option plays.

Yet here is the rub: The kid isn’t ready for the NFL. All quarterbacks struggle in their rookie seasons and some never recover. The Ravens don’t need to rush him onto the field.

The ideal situation for both the Ravens and Jackson is to sit for a year and study the offense as well as Flacco and fellow quarterback Robert Griffin III. He can learn from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who has coached mobile quarterbacks such as Steve Young and Michael Vick.

Because if there is one major flaw in Jackson’s game it’s his mechanics. Once he fixes those, his accuracy and confidence will improve as well.

There are going to be cries from fans for Harbaugh to start Jackson over Flacco at some point during the season if Flacco struggles.

It will start in the preseason, during which both Griffin and Jackson could play well against second- and third-string defenses. It’s unlikely the Ravens will keep three quarterbacks, and they certainly aren’t going to cut a first-round pick.

So if Jackson is No. 2 and Flacco struggles, when does Harbaugh pull the plug?

I hope it never gets to that point in 2018.

This is the time for Flacco to step up, not back. He has responded to challenges before, as in 2012 when Harbaugh fired coordinator Cam Cameron during the season and replaced him with Jim Caldwell. Flacco went on to have a strong postseason and lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl title.

When Gary Kubiak became the Ravens’ offensive coordinator in 2014, he gave Flacco the option of either doing it Kubiak’s way as far as improving his mechanics or taking a seat on the bench.

Flacco became a Kubiak disciple and established career highs that season in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27), as he completed 62.1 percent of his passes for a quarterback rating of 91.0.

This season presents another challenge. Flacco is on the downside of a 10-year career and suffered major injuries in two of the past three seasons. Despite those problems, general manager Ozzie Newsome went out this offseason and loaded up with some new weapons.

He signed wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead during free agency. Over the weekend he secured the two best tight ends, Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, in college football. He drafted wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley.

Harbaugh downplayed any debate about his quarterback situation minutes after the selection of Jackson by stating that Flacco was his No. 1 quarterback. It was a good move and appropriate.

Flacco will count almost $25 million against the salary cap this season. His 10 playoff wins are the second-most among NFL quarterbacks (to the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady) since he entered the league in 2008. Flacco’s resume also includes a Super Bowl championship.

There is no need for an open competition. Flacco is a proven winner, and Jackson hasn’t thrown a pass in the NFL. Apparently Flacco didn’t want to talk about the addition of Jackson over the weekend and who can blame him? Only a week ago he had talked about how the NFL was a business and it was inevitable for the Ravens one day to bring in another quarterback.

That day came Thursday.

While Flacco is silent, the town is buzzing about Jackson. People are asking questions about how much Jackson will play this season and whether the Ravens will put in special packages for him.

That’s what we don’t need to see. Wildcat offenses indicate unproductive offenses. It’s tough enough watching Mornhinweg tinker with his current offense much less changing it to compensate for Jackson’s skill set.

That could be ugly.

Flacco has earned the right to finish his career in Baltimore as long as he plays well. He has been loyal to the organization and you never went to sleep at night wondering whether his name was going to appear in the police blotter the next morning.

Jackson can wait. An early sighting would indicate serious trouble for the organization. The Ravens have a luxury few other teams with rookie quarterbacks get to enjoy.

Right now, there is no need to rush Jackson into the starting lineup.

Time is on his side.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mikeprestonsun

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