Sports columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson performance so far this preseason. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Lamar Jackson have similar styles, but Griffin runs with a purpose and Jackson just runs.
That difference alone is the main reason the Ravens need to keep three quarterbacks. And at this point, if starter Joe Flacco gets hurt for an extended period of time, then Griffin should take over and Jackson should remain a backup.
Coach John Harbaugh has yet to declare publicly if he will keep three quarterbacks, but it would be unfair to the team if Griffin didn’t become the starter in an emergency that forced Flacco out for several games.
Ozzie Newsome, in his final season as the team’s general manager, deserves a better opportunity to win with Griffin than Jackson as the starter. Harbaugh knows that he is in a must-win situation after failing to get to the playoffs in four of the past five seasons.
It’s understandable why Jackson is No. 2 now. The Ravens drafted him in the first round out of Louisville in April, and that status alone warrants more repetitions. But he appears to need more work than expected, even though he has only played several quarters.
When Griffin scrambles, he still operates within the framework of the play or the system. He knows where his receivers are going and moves around to gain valuable time in hopes of throwing downfield. Jackson runs with the full intent of making the big play by running the ball.
That worked at Louisville, but he is an injury waiting to happen in the NFL.
Right now, the Ravens play with confidence, and there seems to be more of a comfort level with Griffin. He can attack the entire field, which he couldn’t do in his first couple of seasons as the starting quarterback with the Washington Redskins.
As a starter, Jackson would put the Ravens in a similar situation — at this point, he can only read one-quarter to one-half of a field. He throws well on short passes, mostly while rolling to his right. The Ravens have tried to put him more at ease by running more zone-option plays when he is in the game, but that in itself limits the play selection.
The most surprising thing about Jackson is his lack of accuracy. It’s hard to teach that in most situations: Either you have it or you don’t. Quarterbacks survive in the NFL because of their ability to throw the ball into tight windows or pockets, especially inside the red zone.
Maybe there is something flawed in Jackson’s fundamentals. There has been talk about how he improperly grips the ball. Improving his footwork will help his velocity and the completion of his follow-through motion will cut down on the number of passes that sail too high.
Overall, Jackson has played like a rookie with a lot of ups and downs. He came out slow Monday night against the Indianapolis Colts but warmed up once the Ravens let him attempt and complete some short passes. The 7-yard roll-out pass he completed to Chris Moore for a touchdown was a beauty and perfect.
His upside is still high. Patience is needed, and he was expected to be somewhat of a project. During the regular season, the Ravens might want to develop some plays or packages with him because he can become a dynamic part-time weapon. But remember: He was drafted to be a quarterback, not a gimmick on offense exposed to injury.
The main priority was to find Flacco’s potential replacement, one that could push Flacco as the starter in 2018 but also have time to learn the game.