“What you see is what it is,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday, seemingly satisfied after the last practice of the team’s mandatory minicamp, because this is what coaches and teammates and reporters saw from Lamar Jackson in the quarterback’s final workout before training camp:
They saw Jackson throw his first pass of 11-on-11 action down the left sideline, a go route to wide receiver Sammy Watkins, the ball falling into his hands in stride as cornerback Marlon Humphrey looked on helplessly.
They saw Jackson complete his first seven attempts in full-team action, a streak broken up only when tight end Eli Wolf couldn’t bring in a full-extension grab from his scrambling quarterback.
They saw Jackson hit sideline throw after sideline throw, from swing passes to out routes to bombs, as if eager to prove he could put the ball anywhere on the field he wanted.
They saw Jackson throw his third interception in two days, this one a high-arcing long ball to wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown that fluttered long enough for Humphrey to track it and grab it.
It was the kind of mid-June practice that the coronavirus pandemic had perhaps robbed the Ravens of last season: a few mistakes, a lot more highlights, enough flashes of Jackson’s 2019 form to make everyone forget about an inconsistent Tuesday morning, more than enough new wrinkles to wonder what might be possible in 2021.
“He did have an excellent day today,” Harbaugh said of Jackson, who completed about 75% of his attempts overall in 11-on-11 work, with no “live” contact allowed. “I think I’ve seen him work at it with other guys so hard throughout the whole program here. We’ll know for sure when the games start getting played, but I think as a coach, you look for that every single day, and we’ve seen it every single day.
“Today was fun for you guys to see it, and today was a good day. I mean, there were a lot of really good, on-time throws against a lot of pressure. They’re bringing a lot of heat, and Lamar and the receivers, I thought, were handling it very well.”
It was Jackson’s best public showing since his roller-coaster 2020 season ended with a concussion in Buffalo and a low-scoring divisional-round defeat. “I was ticked off about the playoff loss,” Jackson said Wednesday, and so were the Ravens, who this offseason went about finding the help he needed to deliver the Super Bowl he can’t stop obsessing over.
Even with rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman sidelined by a stomach virus, even with the Ravens’ historic running game not featured in Wednesday’s offense-versus-defense matchups, Jackson mostly had his way against a first-string secondary missing only cornerback Tavon Young. He found Watkins four times in 11-on-11 drop-backs, three of them for significant gains. The day before, Jackson had connected with the newcomer for a deep catch over the middle and a toe-tap, jump-ball touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
“Getting in the groove a little bit,” Harbaugh said Wednesday of their burgeoning partnership.
Jackson didn’t seem to be playing favorites, though. He spread the ball around, his wide receivers and tight ends and running backs all welcome to help out. Second-year wideouts Devin Duvernay and James Proche II, who earned shout-outs from Humphrey afterward, were involved early on outside routes. Running back J.K. Dobbins caught two passes in a row in the flat. Mark Andrews flashed his Pro Bowl talent, and fellow tight end Josh Oliver again showed why he might have been worth more than a potential seventh-round pick.
Some of Jackson’s success, he attributed to improved mechanics. Footwork has been a focus: By widening his base as he winds up, he can better drive the ball downfield and to the sideline. (As if to demonstrate how “tight” he wants his spirals to look, Jackson wiggled his index finger.)
But some of Jackson’s aerial success owed to circumstances beyond his control. Harbaugh said having organized team activities — or even being allowed to gather in Arizona to work out, as Jackson did in April with a handful of his top offensive weapons — would “be a big help” to the offense this season. The Ravens’ lack of experience and practice repetitions “did show up, probably,” last season, Harbaugh acknowledged.
There’s a different vibe around the Ravens’ much-maligned receivers, too. Humphrey said he noticed a “major energy change” at the position, from the new coaching staff on down to under-the-radar players like Jaylon Moore, who went undrafted last year, spent the season on the practice squad and impressed this past month.
“With the receivers, a lot of stuff is happening faster,” Jackson said. “Guys are working a lot harder. Not taking anything away from my guys from previous years, but these guys this year, for some reason, it’s like everyone’s just flying around. … It’s a lot of young guys here flying around and stuff, trying to get better.”
Said Humphrey: “Whatever group makes it [to the 53-man roster], we’ll have a really serious, good passing attack, just with what those guys can do.”
Minicamp ends Thursday, and training camp is still about a month and a half away, but to Jackson that means only that “the season is here.” He said he plans to work out back home in South Florida during the Ravens’ hiatus and organize more sessions with the team’s receivers. “It’s straight ‘go mode’ right now,” Jackson said, leaving no room for backsliding.
His chief concern: the Las Vegas Raiders, the Ravens’ Week 1 opponent — not the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars he’d earn with a contract extension. Asked again about the state of his negotiations with the Ravens, Jackson, who’s signed through the 2022 season, said he was “focused on getting me a Super Bowl,” and left it at that.
That question — and that answer — would not have surprised Harbaugh. Until Jackson signs, he’ll have the NFL wondering what kind of deal he might get, and when. And until Jackson wins a Super Bowl, he’ll fill news conferences with answers about his yearnings for the sport’s top prize. Harbaugh wants Jackson to get better at everything. Harbaugh said Jackson wants the same. If seeing is believing, Wednesday was a step forward.
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“Lamar’s confident, and Lamar understands what’s important,” Harbaugh said. “I mean ... look what he’s done. He’s going to get paid. And he knows that. The question becomes, what’s he going to do? What’s his legacy going to be as a quarterback? That’s what he’s focused on.”