Though it’s strange to use the word boring in connection with Lamar Jackson, the first two and a half weeks of his training camp have been relatively uneventful, blessedly so if you ask the Ravens’ franchise quarterback.
Coming off a year in which he missed significant practice and game time because of illness and injury, he has not been absent for a moment of camp. He has not hit peak form in every practice but has thrown with more zip and accuracy than in any previous summer of his career.
“I like it like this,” he said Saturday, speaking with reporters for the second time since camp began. “I was able to start Day One. And what is it, like Day 15 for us? And I’m feeling pretty good. Nothing is wrong with me.”
Jackson surfed into his fifth season on a wave of speculation about a possible contract extension. Would he hold out? Hold in? Set a public deadline for the end of negotiations?
He offered no update Saturday but did say he does not want talks with general manager Eric DeCosta to extend into the regular season, which begins Sept. 11 at the New York Jets. The greater point, as coaches and teammates see it, is that Jackson has not let the contract story impinge on his practice form.
“He’s doing a great job. He’s practicing every day. The business part of it is the business part,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m very confident that will get done. You can’t really rush it. Neither side wants to rush anything. Both sides want to be happy when it’s all said and done, and probably both sides unhappy … to some degree, but that’s kind of how it works. But he’s doing a great job, he’s practicing well and he’s a great leader.”
Jackson’s backup, Tyler Huntley, said he looks to the former Most Valuable Player as a model for shutting out extraneous noise.
“I look to him where’s that stuff like that,” he said. “He just blocks it out. Just focus on what’s going on right now instead of what’s outside, because we can’t control none of that stuff going on, what everybody’s talking about. One thing we can control is what’s going on on the field. He told me that.”
Huntley said Jackson is “throwing the hell out of the ball.”
Quarterbacks coach James Urban agreed, saying Jackson has built on his sharp performance during the team’s mandatory minicamp in June.
“And then some,” Urban said. “He’s looked as good and as sharp on many of the things that we worked at specifically and emphasized — I call them the squeaky wheels — and he’s in a great place.”
For example, Jackson has talked about trying to keep his left arm calm so he can follow through cleanly on his throwing motion.
“If you rip out your left elbow, your left shoulder, then you get wild,” Urban said, torquing his upper body to demonstrate. “Just generically speaking, watch any NFL quarterback throw and there’s some calmness to the left side. Watch a baseball pitcher, same thing. … Mechanically speaking, that is something we’ve talked a lot about.”
Urban went back to one of his favorite comparisons, saying Jackson is like a younger Michael Jordan, who needed to add a reliable jump shot and a sweet fadeaway to his drive-and-finish game. “What area of my game needs improvement?” the quarterbacks coach said. “What area of my game needs to grow?”
He said he and Jackson’s private throwing coach, Adam Dedeaux, have collaborated on steering the 25-year-old superstar through those refinements.
“Adam and I work very closely together; we’re very friendly,” Urban said. “We’re colleagues. He asks me questions. I ask him questions. It’s been a great symbiotic relationship.”
One question around Jackson never seems to change: Will he break down if he continues to average double-digit carries per game as a runner? “I’ve been good with how I’ve been playing, but when I tried to sit and stay in the pocket, I got hurt for the first time,” he said, referring to the ankle injury he suffered last season in Cleveland. “So I think it speaks for itself.”
He recently told NFL Network that his weight is up to 230 pounds, roughly 20 pounds of muscle north of where he played last season. Is the greater bulk designed to make him more durable?
Jackson mostly laughed off the question. “I just wanted to look the part,” he said. “I just wanted to look a little sturdy back there, look a little big. I feel like it worked. I’m still fast, still moving around like I was.”
Urban said he’ll never tell Jackson to stop using his unique gifts. “Don’t let me coach you out of being a great player,” he said he tells him. “Trust your instincts.”
Jackson did not play in the preseason opener Thursday. When asked if he will go in for a series or two in the Ravens’ Sunday night matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, he said, “I might give it a shot; I don’t know yet.”
If his camp has been calm compared to last year, when he missed the start because he was sick with COVID-19, he’s still never allowed to forget that all of the franchise’s hopes for a Super Bowl hinge on him.
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Jackson lives another Beatles moment at the end of every practice as a mob of young fans, many wearing his No. 8 jersey, serenades him with cries of “Lamar! Lamar!” He tries to slap as many hands as possible without being swallowed up.
Does he ever leave home and not hear someone yelling his name? “No, I don’t,” he said.
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