Lamar Jackson’s most encouraging moment Thursday, the Ravens’ third day of organized team activities this offseason and first open to reporters, might have been a post-practice self-assessment that was at odds with his coach’s.
John Harbaugh said his starting quarterback “looked good. What you saw today is what he’s looked like.” And how did Jackson think he’s looked?
“I'd say my first day, I sucked,” he said, grinning slightly. “Second day, I played better. ... Today was all right, but it could've been better. Always trying to be perfect in practice.”
This is an offseason of change for Jackson and the offense he will now lead. He took first-team repetitions Thursday; last year, month after month, he split snaps behind Joe Flacco with Robert Griffin III. Jackson has new targets at wide receiver and potentially a new starter at running back. Even the playbook has changed with the promotion of Greg Roman to offensive coordinator.
All of which have made the expectations for Jackson something of a moving target as the start of training camp edges closer. He’s still just a 22-year-old with seven regular-season starts under his belt. He acknowledged not even knowing that the Ravens’ overhauled offense would be “totally different” from the one he ran under Marty Mornhinweg, who was not retained after last season’s AFC North-winning campaign.
There are new reads. Some of the cadence is different. The terminology has changed. These are the “the little things,” Harbaugh said, but they add up.
“When I got here, Coach was like, 'Yeah, we have a totally new system. You're going to have to go through this and that,' ” Jackson said. “It's been getting to me a little bit.”
Said Harbaugh: “It's a process, so we're not exactly clicking on all cylinders yet, but I'm really happy with the progress and where we're going.”
The Jackson who took the field Thursday with much of last year’s starting offense — among returners, only guard Marshal Yanda was absent — was an improvement on the one who showed up in Owings Mills for much of last spring and summer, his head spinning and many of his throws wobbling.
In seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 action, where no live contact is permitted and quarterbacks thus enjoy relatively stress-free pockets, Jackson showed improved fundamentals: a wider base, stepping into his throws, his hip “firing,” just like his coaches had hoped to see.
Yes, there was a throw down the left sideline that fluttered and ended incomplete. There was a bad miss on an out-breaking route to the right sideline, the kind of pass Jackson struggled with as a rookie. There were a couple scrambles when he couldn’t find a target open downfield. (Absent All-22 footage, it was hard to judge whether it was the right read.)
Otherwise, Jackson, a 58.2% passer last season, was mostly accurate. Playing without potential starting rookie receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, who watched from the sideline as they tended to injuries, he spread the ball generously. He found receivers who’ve yet to make a name for themselves in Baltimore (Jordan Lasley and Quincy Adeboyejo had solid showings) and new targets whose names, he said, he might not even know yet (undrafted rookie Antoine Wesley flashed his ability).
“Man, he can throw it,” said Mark Ingram, the former New Orleans Saints running back who signed with the Ravens in March. “Man, I've seen him make a lot of tight throws in tight windows. I've seen him make some deep throws. I've seen him go through his progressions, make check-downs, hit guys in second windows in zones, so he's making his reads and getting better.
“Of course, there's going to be times where he might throw something that he wants to have back, but that's a part of growing. That's a part of maturing as a young quarterback and as a team. I mean, I played with Drew Brees eight years, and there's throws he wishes he had back. So that's just part of the process and that's part of growing and improving every single day.”
In Jackson’s final appearance last season, he was sacked and fumbled for the third time, losing the ball and any chance of a comeback in a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Thursday’s practice ended in glory, or at least as much as glory as there is to be found in a late-May workout.
Harbaugh set the stage with an announcement: The offense was down a touchdown with just seconds left on the clock. The ball was at the 3-yard line. As Jackson took the snap, Ravens linebackers blitzed and the offensive line held strong. Jackson quickly surveyed his options. Running back Gus Edwards was open, barely. Jackson fired into the sliver of space.
This time, he could celebrate a job well done.
Notes: Wide receivers Brown (foot) and Boykin (hamstring), running back Kenneth Dixon, guards Yanda and Alex Lewis, defensive tackles Michael Pierce, Brandon Williams and Gerald Willis, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Cyrus Jones, and safeties Tony Jefferson and Earl Thomas did not participate in the voluntary practice Thursday.
Brown and Boykin are expected to be ready for training camp in July. Harbaugh said Jefferson is recovering from offseason ankle surgery.