We didn’t see much of the Ravens’ “revolutionary” offense, but Lamar Jackson’s progress continued.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has described the team’s revamped attack as a potential game-changer for an NFL offense. Instead of asking Jackson to fit the traditional mold of a precision passer, the Ravens will use his mobility as the starting point for everything they do.
Just don’t expect to see the “revolution” before Week 1. Jackson played three series against the Jacksonville Jaguars, more than expected. But the Ravens understandably steered away from any play that would expose him to risk. And a Jackson who doesn’t threaten teams with his legs is not the real thing.
He said Thursday night’s offense was “not close at all” to what fans will see in the regular season. “It’s going to be fun to watch,” he promised.
What Jackson did do in a limited sample was continue the steady progress we’ve seen from him as a passer. He completed four of six attempts, with the biggest play a 30-yard completion to Chris Moore off a rollout. He appeared to sail one attempt well over the head of tight end Nick Boyle and into Moore’s fortunately placed arms, but he said Moore was his target all along. Jackson generally avoided the sidearm releases and fluttering misfires that made critics question his passing skills last season.
Again, that fits the theme from training camp, where Jackson has delivered a few Jekyll-and-Hyde days but has generally thrown more good balls than bad.
None of this is to say he will roll out as a finished product Sept. 8 in Miami, just that he’s headed in the right direction.
Kaare Vedvik reasserted himself as a summer phenom.
The 25-year-old kicker’s emotions roiled before the preseason opener as he contemplated his long road back from an off-field assault that cost him last season. He leaned on team chaplain Johnny Shelton for a supportive word.
“It was a very, very emotional night … just given everything that happened,” Vedvik said after he made four field goals and booted two long punts in his return to action.
Vedvik was the talk of Ravens camp last summer as his powerful leg made him a potential trade chip for a team already blessed with the league’s best kicker in Justin Tucker. The former soccer player had learned to kick a football from YouTube videos, and suddenly, he seemed on the cusp of an NFL job.
That all ended with the assault in downtown Baltimore that pushed him to the non-football injury list. But Harbaugh made no secret of his hope that Vedvik would revive his market value this summer.
The Norwegian kicker misfired on attempt after attempt during offseason workouts and minicamp, but said his confidence did not waver. “To me, that’s practice,” he explained. “I’m learning.”
He bounced back in a major way against the Jaguars, making field goals of 55, 45, 29 and 26 yards and adding 53- and 58-yard punts for good measure.
“I’m so happy for him,” Harbaugh said. “Not surprised; he’s so confident.”
With teams such as the Chicago Bears desperate for a kicker, Vedvik’s obvious leg talent could again make him an appealing target as the season nears. The Ravens have gifted other teams with top-notch kickers — Stephen Hauschka and Wil Lutz — in the past. They’d love to leverage that track record into a tangible return this time around.
Vedvik said he never thinks about a potential trade. “If teams are interested, they can talk to Coach, the head honcho,” he said with a grin.
The Jaguars could not block the few Ravens defensive starters who played.
The Ravens sat most of their front-line defenders, including all the starters in their high-priced secondary.
But the Jaguars struggled to move the ball against the few starters and key backups who played, earning just one first down in their first three possessions against the Baltimore defense.
Outside linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive tackle Chris Wormley collapsed the pocket to force a sack on Jacksonville’s first possession, and middle linebacker Patrick Onwuasor burst in to stop Jaguars running back Alfred Blue for no gain on the next defensive possession.
The Ravens expect Judon and Onwuasor, both fourth-year players, to step forward as leaders of a defense that lost linebackers C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith to free agency. We can’t glean much about that succession plan based on a few plays against second-string blockers.
But the Ravens had to be pleased Judon and Onwuasor, who have ample motivation to produce with free agency looming, were ready to go.
In addition to making four tackles, Onwuasor wore the microphoned helmet designating the team’s chief defensive signal caller.
“It’s just a great feeling, having that mic,” he said, a sign of his more assertive personality as he steps into Mosley’s shoes.
The Ravens’ rookie skill players delivered mixed results in their debuts.
With first-round draft pick Marquise Brown still sitting out, fellow rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin had a busy night against the Jaguars, catching four passes on nine targets in the first half alone.
Boykin made a textbook back-shoulder catch for a 24-yard gain to set up a 45-yard field goal by Vedvik just before halftime. But he also showed iffy hands and could have made more effort to fight for position on a Trace McSorley pass that was intercepted by Jacksonville’s Tae Hayes.
Boykin generated more buzz than any other rookie at the beginning of training camp with his hard-to-miss blend of size and speed. His 6-foot-4 frame makes him a potential life saver for Jackson, who’s not always a precise passer. But the former Notre Dame star will have to play more consistently to stay on the field.
Running back Justice Hill averaged just 3.3 yards on 10 carries, but showed his speed and elusiveness on a 14-yard catch and run in the two-minute drill before halftime.
Hill has impressed in training camp with his ability to change directions at close to full speed. He’s only 200 pounds, but runs low to the ground and could give the Ravens an ideal counter to power runners Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards. He was considered the fastest running back in the 2019 draft class, and the good news is his speed translates to the field.
McSorley played more than two quarters after replacing Jackson and completed just nine of 22 attempts for 85 yards and an interception. But he did lead three scoring drives and flash the mobility that made him an interesting draft prospect. He’s improved significantly from his early practices with the team.
The Ravens’ young pass rushers gave the team reason for optimism.
The Ravens are counting on creative schemes more than individual brilliance to fuel their pass rush this season. But they’d be thrilled if third-year linebackers Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser or rookie Jaylon Ferguson even partially fill the shoes of departed stars Suggs and Smith.
We can’t forecast such progress based on a few quarterback hits earned against second- and third-string blockers, but Williams and Ferguson did stand out against the Jaguars.
Williams, the former third-round pick out of Alabama, has flashed talent coming off the edge before. But he’s struggled to keep weight on his frame and to stay in the good graces of Ravens coaches. This preseason is probably his final chance to earn a spot on the team’s roster.
He jumped to a good start with three tackles and a half-sack against the Jaguars, consistently evading blockers and streaking to the ball.
Ferguson, who needed a shot of confidence after an unremarkable start to training camp, produced a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.
“We were physical off the edge,” Harbaugh said. “It seemed like top to bottom, our pass rushers played well tonight.”