Now that training camp is coming to a close, the Ravens offensive line is looking forward to dinner. Courtesy of quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Offensive line-quarterback dinners started last season with then-starter Joe Flacco, and Jackson continued them. The grind of training camp has left little downtime for anything but sleep, but once the regular season starts and the schedule becomes more regular, Jackson has told veteran lineman James Hurst that they’d go out again.
The line doesn’t “discriminate against food,” Hurst joked Tuesday, but if Jackson is looking for suggestions, they really like Azumi for sushi, or Clavel if they’re feeling like Mexican.
And just like Jackson, 22, isn’t too young to lead the Ravens in their AFC North title defense, he might not be too young to pick up the tab.
“Well, well, we're going to have to see,” Hurst said, chuckling. “Joe was a real tenured vet, so a lot of times, it was Joe's treat. So we're really going to have to talk to Lamar, you know, and just say, ‘See, we protect you on Sunday, you maybe feed us one night.’ So we're going to have to work on that.”
When the Ravens’ second preseason game arrives Thursday against the Green Bay Packers, all eyes will be on Jackson’s throws and his development as a passer. But the behind-the-scenes work Jackson has done to establish himself as a leader is just as important as his skill work.
Jackson made his first NFL appearance in the Ravens’ season-opening win over the Buffalo Bills and continued to play over the next eight weeks as a wild-card weapon next to Flacco. In Week 11, he made his first start after Flacco had hurt his hip.
Through the final weeks of the season, as the Ravens chased the division crown, Jackson did not face much prolonged adversity. There were early struggles against the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons. (He also briefly left the win over Atlanta after taking a hit to the head.) But he went 6-1 overall, losing only to the Kansas City Chiefs, the AFC’s eventual top seed.
The Ravens’ worst game was their last, when they fell into a 20-point hole against the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC wild-card-round game, before nearly rallying to win.
This season will not be a repeat of 2018. Now, coordinators around the NFL know what to expect from him. And the Ravens’ top-ranked defense is expected to drop off with the loss of veterans such as C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs.
It’s been a critical offseason for a leader to step up.
Jackson, who coach John Harbaugh said was born for the role, is naturally sliding into the position. His personality — described as easygoing, fun, kind, understanding — laid the foundation for a smooth transition into a leadership role, but Jackson has taken extra steps to help set the mood in the locker room as he becomes its most recognizable face.
During the five weeks between mandatory minicamp and training camp, Jackson got together with veteran wide receivers Chris Moore and Willie Snead IV to work out. Moore said the sessions were important in helping Jackson understand how each receiver runs routes differently. Jackson averaged just over 22 pass attempts per game as a starter last season and finished with 170 overall, 37th in the league.
“It’s just that extra time we needed to build this offense,” Snead said July 28. “We worked some scheme. At the end of the day, it’s just growing the chemistry, building the brotherhood and taking time with each other.”
Although Jackson worked out with only the receivers, players say he makes time for everyone on the roster, from the top of the depth chart to the bottom.
“I’m one of the guys,” he explained Tuesday. “I hang out. I’m cool, man.”
Tight end Hayden Hurst, who came into the NFL with Jackson last year, said Jackson sits by the tight ends and jokes around with them in the locker room. Wide receiver Jaleel Scott said he also talks to the wideouts and cheers them on through ups and downs.
“When you have a quarterback that’s understanding and talks to you, you’d do anything for him,” Scott said.
Even rookie defensive tackle Daylon Mack, part of a Texas A&M defense that Jackson rushed for 226 yards against in Louisville’s 2015 Music City Bowl win, can only smile when talking about Jackson. While Mack remembers that bowl game well and jokes about it with teammates, he didn’t expect Jackson to remember him all these years later. But Jackson “just came up and started a conversation,” Mack said, and now they talk a lot.
Every team expects its starting quarterback to naturally guide the offense. But Jackson’s relationship with players on both sides of the ball has allowed him to take on a broader leadership role.
Defensive players notice the hard work he’s put in, working out with the receivers and always coming prepared to dive into practice, defensive tackle Brandon Williams said before camp started.
“He is doing everything that a starting quarterback is supposed to be doing,” Williams said. “I appreciate him for this, and I can’t wait to see him just get out there and sling it.”
The respect and camaraderie he’s developed have even helped him keep the peace. When things got heated in a seven-on-seven drill Tuesday, Jackson placed himself between the offense and the defense — like Switzerland, the safe, friendly, neutral ground.
Tight end Nick Boyle had taken a swing at safety Chuck Clark before being restrained. As the sides separated and returned to the drill, Jackson turned to Boyle and gave him a little pat on the helmet.
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“He gets along with everybody,” Mack said of the incident. “Yeah, [he’s a] peacekeeper.”
The team is also responding to Jackson’s growing confidence and comfort with the offense. He completed over 70% of his passes Tuesday, the 15th and final practice day of training camp, and was especially precise in the red zone. Other than a lone interception grabbed by safety Tony Jefferson, Jackson looked ready for Thursday night’s game.
“I’m way ahead than I was last year,” said Jackson, who’ll play about a quarter against the Packers. He said he no longer has to turn to the coaches for direction before the snap.
“That confidence just radiates to the other guys in the huddle,” James Hurst said.
With the season less than four weeks away, fans and critics will be watching to see whether his development holds up. But Hurst said the team knows that “this is our guy.”
The next step, Hayden Hurst said, is getting him to take the tight ends out to dinner, too.
“We’ll have to get on him,” he said with a laugh.