After mentoring Michael Vick, new Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban getting Lamar Jackson up to speed

During a Tuesday meeting in the second week of the 2010 season, Michael Vick knew there was something special about James Urban, the Ravens’ new quarterbacks coach who was then in his second season in that same position with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Week 2 matchup against the Detroit Lions would be Vick’s first start at quarterback since 2006, after jail time for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring kept him away from the sport.


He was nervous.

“I went to his office on Tuesday early to get a look at the defense, and I remember him vividly telling me, ‘Mike, this is going to be one of the weeks where you have to work as hard as you’ve ever worked in your life because this is a really, really good defense,’ ” Vick recalled.


Urban’s presence focused Vick. The then-30-year-old quarterback overwhelmed the Lions, completing 21 of 34 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns while running for 37 yards in a 35-32 victory. It was the beginning of a career-defining season for Vick, who earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year award with 30 touchdowns (21 passing) and 3,018 passing yards.

It’s no wonder Vick refers to Urban as “the biggest key in my career.”

“He really instilled confidence in me that I really had a lot of time left to do some great things,” he said. “The details of the game plans, just him making sure I understood it, really helped me blossom into the quarterback that I had become that season.”

Now the Ravens quarterbacks coach, Urban must gain the respect of his new team before his first game on M&T Bank Stadium’s home sideline, a key for taking on balancing rookie Lamar Jackson and veteran Joe Flacco.


It’s a good thing he’s done this before.

In 2009, then-Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb pushed for Philadelphia to sign Vick, which put his eventual successor on the roster with him. At the time, McNabb said he wasn’t pressured by Vick.

"I wouldn't have a problem with it if it's helping us win," McNabb told ESPN.

There was even the suggestion that Vick would play receiver at times. Instead, the Eagles tabbed Vick to make plays with his feet. In 2009, he finished with 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Already, Urban has taken creative liberties with his Ravens quarterbacks that might translate to the field come September. With Flacco still the starter and Jackson in line to be the primary backup, Urban has experimented with using both on the field at the same time, with Jackson in a role that might resemble a receiver.

Not too long ago, the idea of getting moved to wide receiver would offend Jackson to the point of him refusing to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.

But with Urban at the wheel, the rookie seems to have faith.

“It’s pretty cool,” Jackson said on the last day of mandatory minicamp. “Gotta hit ’em where it hurts.”

Urban collaborated with the Ravens’ strength and conditioning staff since the combine to get Jackson’s body ready for the rigors of the NFL. In the handful of work days, the quarterbacks coach prioritized playbook knowledge for Jackson, and said he saw remarkable improvement on the final day of minicamp.

“I tell him all the time, ‘That’s my responsibility, and you have to do the job,’ ” Urban said. “Together, we’re hooked at the hip to get him up to speed with it.”

Jackson has already been compared several times to a young Michael Vick, who in turn referred to Jackson as a “spitting image” of himself after the Louisville quarterback rushed for 146 yards and passed for 210 with five touchdowns (four passing) to rout Florida State, 63-20, in 2016.

It’s for that reason that Vick believes having Urban mentoring Jackson won’t be too different from what Urban did eight years ago, albeit with a wealth of experience added in between.

Ravens veteran quarterback Joe Flacco says he's focused on getting the team's new offensive players up to speed.

“James is really, really laid back to a point where he doesn’t have to be a ‘rah-rah’ guy to gain control,” he said. “I think man to man, [Jackson’s] going to want to give him the respect just because you know he’s put the time and the work in throughout the week to get the quarterback successful. That’s a trait that’ll be a big reason he’ll progress in the coaching realm.”

Over his 15-year NFL career, Urban has never won a Super Bowl ring. But during a seven-year stint as Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers coach, he helped the team reach the playoffs in five straight seasons, from 2011 to 2015, and helped them eliminate the Ravens from postseason contention in Week 17 this past year.

“Playing the Bengals twice a year, we’ve seen what a good job James does,” Harbaugh said in January. “He’s highly regarded around the league, including by Ozzie [Newsome] and Marty [Mornhinweg]. We were all excited when he became available.”

Urban worked alongside Harbaugh with the Eagles for five years. He spent four under Mornhinweg, two as the quarterbacks coach.

He then accepted a job as Bengals wide receivers coach in 2011, citing his desire to broaden his horizons in coaching.

That season marked a new start for the Bengals offense with a new battery of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green. Odds were stacked against Urban.

But in Urban’s seven seasons coaching Green, the 6-foot-4 receiver earned a Pro Bowl nod every year, totaling 8,213 receiving yards and 57 touchdowns in 102 games.

On top of his long resume, Urban is bringing a philosophy he’s built over his years in the AFC.

“Two things I emphasize like crazy: compete, and complete the ball,” he said.

That isn’t to say that Urban was without flaws in Cincinnati. With his successes, there were glaring and even recent failures.

Both John Ross and Tyler Boyd, the Bengals’ 2017 first-round and 2016 second-round draft picks, respectively, flopped under Urban’s watch last season. Ross, the ninth overall pick who battled shoulder and knee injuries, didn’t make a catch last season. Boyd, one year after a promising rookie season, dealt with injuries and off-field problems to see his receiving totals fall from 54 catches to 22 and 603 receiving yards to 225. However, Boyd did make the last-minute 49-yard touchdown catch that kept the Ravens from making the playoffs in last season’s finale.

But in Urban’s outlook for his team now, there’s no sense of defeatism.

“Everything’s a work in progress,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction, and there’s much, much to do.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun