If you were paying attention, this was the exact Lamar Jackson you should have expected.
All week, stories popped up in the national media about when Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, might seize the starting quarterback job from Joe Flacco.
Fans have called for a rapid succession.
But if you actually watched Jackson and Flacco during offseason workouts or during the first two weeks of training camp, you know talk of an imminent position battle is ludicrous.
Underwhelming as he’s been the last three years, Flacco still throws a football better than all but a dozen or so people on Earth. His 10 years as an NFL starter and Super Bowl MVP earn him automatic respect with teammates.
Jackson might get there some day, but his uneven throwing mechanics and over-eagerness to run have been apparent in almost every practice and were apparent against the Bears’ reserves on Thursday.
Jackson engineered one touchdown drive on which he completed several sharp passes into tight windows, including the scoring pass to fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst. His chemistry with Hurst — they’re roommates on the road and already good friends — is promising.
But on the very next drive, Jackson attempted a deep out to rookie receiver Jaleel Scott, and he either waited too long or failed to put enough mustard on the throw. Bears cornerback Doran Grant stepped in front of Scott for an easy interception.
Jackson played the entire second half and completed four passes in 10 attempts overall. He also ran eight times for 25 yards, flashing a few quicksilver cuts but learning that those cuts don’t often produce game-breaking plays in the NFL.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he went in with modest expectations, hoping to see Jackson handle the myriad responsibilities associated with running an NFL offense.
On that score, Harbaugh was pleased, noting the rookie’s poise in managing the huddle and calling plays.
“He was into it,” he said of Jackson’s demeanor on the sideline. “He talked with Marty [Mornhinweg] and had ideas on plays. He’s very poised and very aware of what’s going on around him. He’s a very smart young man and a very conscientious athlete. Clearly there’s great things ahead for him.”
The key word there is ahead.
We’ll all be fascinated to watch Jackson’s progress. But for now, with the Ravens hoping to return to the playoffs, he’s little threat to Flacco.
Hayden Hurst looks ready to make an impact this season.
Unlike his buddy, Jackson, the Ravens’ other first-round pick could easily see the field on the first series of the season opener.
The Ravens haven’t had a reliable, dynamic pass catcher at tight end since a young Dennis Pita. But Hurst looks the part, from the way he covers ground to the way he creates space to make catches in traffic.
His stat line from Thursday — three catches on four targets for 14 yards — won’t blow anyone away. But he impressed teammates with those contested catches, plays the Ravens have not made often enough in recent seasons.
“That’s what I pride myself on,” he said. “When the ball gets thrown in my direction, I’m going to do whatever I can to catch it. Whatever coverage, whatever it is, high throw, I want to come down with the ball.”
Nick Boyle is the team’s projected starter at tight end because of his experience and blocking. But expect to see him and Hurst on the field together from Week 1. Between slot receiver Willie Snead and his new tight end, Flacco might have his best set of underneath targets since the 2012 Super Bowl season.
The Ravens better hope their starting offensive linemen remain healthy.
Of the team’s projected starters, only center Matt Skura and left guard Alex Lewis played against the Bears. So we needn’t panic over the eight sacks the Ravens allowed.
But the poor pass blocking highlighted a problem the Ravens could face if injuries hit, as they did with Lewis and All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda last season.
Even against defenders unlikely to make the Bears roster, the team’s reserve blockers failed to protect Robert Griffin III and Jackson or to create much running room.
Without analyzing tape, it’s hard to grade individual linemen. But the aggregate was unimpressive for a group that included rookie right tackle Orlando Brown, second-year guard Jermaine Eluemunor and rookie center Bradley Bozeman.
If there was a promising note, it was the sheer amount of playing time Brown handled. The rookie is still acclimating to the right side of the line, but the Ravens hope he pushes for a starting job, a development that would allow James Hurst to play his ideal role as a swingman.
The NFL remains on unsteady ground in policing head shots.
Ravens safety Bennett Jackson thought he’d made a perfect hit when he lowered his shoulder into the chest of Bears tight end Daniel Brown in the fourth quarter.
So Jackson could only throw up his arms in bewilderment when he heard the referee’s whistle, signaling him for a 15-yard penalty.
He was one of three Ravens who drew penalties for lowering their helmets on tackles as the NFL takes yet another clumsy step in its efforts to reduce head injuries.
Under the new rule, a player can be penalized 15 yards and face a possible ejection and fine for lowering his head to hit an opponent.
The Ravens have tried to teach the rule during training camp, but players clearly came out of Thursday’s game puzzled by the enforcement of it.
Widely respected starting safety Eric Weddle, who didn’t play against the Bears, expressed his confusion on Twitter.
“This is a clinic teach tape play for a safety,” Weddle wrote under a video of Jackson’s hit. “No chance they make this call in the regular season. Guess we have to let them catch it, take 2 steps, then hit them. Hahaha.”
Harbaugh also seemed unsure what to say. “If I knew, I would give you an opinion on it,” he said of the three lowered-head penalties called against his team. “I don’t know enough about the rule to understand it right now.”
In general, we should give NFL officials latitude as they try to address the greatest health crisis the league has faced, one that could undermine the future of football as we learn more about the terrifying fallout from concussions.
If the effort to teach new methods leads to incomprehensible calls, especially in the preseason, that’s an acceptable cost.