Lamar Jackson is hardly a finished product, but he’s made real progress this preseason.
Jackson started for the first time in his career in a 30-20 win over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night and wasted no time, driving the Ravens 81 yards on 13 plays for an opening touchdown. Though it came against second-string defenders, the drive felt like a continuation of his excellent second half last weekend against the Miami Dolphins.
Jackson completed all four of his pass attempts and ran twice for 10 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he moved like a man in control of his craft and his team. That command was missing in his first three games, even when he tossed off dazzling highlights.
“He executed this offense, I thought, the best he has by far,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
In the second quarter, Jackson zipped a perfect mid-range throw between two defenders to catch rookie tight end Mark Andrews in stride on a 45-yard play. It was precisely the type of throw that bedeviled him during training camp.
Jackson wasn’t perfect by any means. He missed a few throws that top NFL starters make in their sleep. He was lucky when Redskins cornerback Adonis Alexander could not hang on to an interception in the end zone late in the second quarter. He waited too long to throw the pass and gave Breshad Perriman no chance to make a clean play on the ball.
But it was easy to watch this version of Jackson and think forward to a time when he’s starting games that matter at M&T Bank Stadium.
Given his importance to the overall story of the franchise, the Ravens will call that a victory for this preseason.
The Ravens’ fullback might also be the key to covering for the absence of defensive tackle Willie Henry.
NFL coaches spend their lives obsessing over the slickest ways to maximize a 46-man active roster on game day.
So imagine how their passions are enflamed by a player who blocks out of the backfield, catches short passes as a tight end and stuffs the middle as a defensive tackle.
That’s Patrick Ricard. And it was no surprise that after watching Ricard do his two-way thing Thursday, Harbaugh raved: “I can tell you right now, he’s making the team.”
The Ravens will start the season without starting defensive tackle Willie Henry, who recently underwent hernia surgery. And they might keep both rookie Zach Sieler and veteran Carl Davis to cover for his absence.
Or they might just lean on their in-house Swiss Army knife. Ricard isn’t the most physically imposing lineman, but he played with tremendous leverage against the Redskins, powering through one-on-one blocks to make tackles in the backfield and force a fumble.
He affords the Ravens some peace of mind as they puzzle together their roster over the next two days.
If this was Perriman’s final game as a Raven, he went out nobly.
Odds are this was the last chapter in Perriman’s tortured history with the Ravens. Between his poor injury luck, iffy hands and inability to apply his speed to game situations, he never became the receiver the team envisioned when it picked him 26th overall in the 2015 draft.
Give Perriman credit, however, for outproducing the young receivers who came to take his job this preseason. He walked to midfield as a captain before the Redskins game. Then he made several tough catches and threw a vicious downfield block in the first half.
It would be difficult for the Ravens to keep Perriman over a young receiver such as Jordan Lasley, who still has the time and potential to grow into something. Perriman’s preseason stand will not keep him from going down as one of the all-time busts in Ravens history.
But the former first-rounder did not roll over, and if the Ravens do surprise everyone and keep him, you can’t say he failed to earn it. He’s always yearned to do well, sometimes to the point of beating himself up for his failures. He acknowledged the steep climb he faced to make the team this preseason, but he did not seem dispirited by that reality.
“I didn’t really think about it. That’s not why I was out there,” he said of the possibility he’d played his last game with the Ravens. “Everybody knows the situation that’s going on, but that wasn’t my job to be out there thinking about it. I had a game to play, and I still wanted to show myself and others what I can do. I wasn’t focused on what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day.”
It’s worth trying to find empathy for the athletes that frustrate us most. And Perriman earned that with his potentially doomed effort Thursday.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste’s injury epitomized the cruelty of the preseason.
The journeyman cornerback felt he had finally found his place in the NFL, providing the Ravens with necessary depth in the face of Jimmy Smith’s four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
He’d intercepted passes in his previous two games and seemed on the cusp of securing a roster spot, a satisfying milestone after his odyssey through six NFL cities.
Instead, Jean-Baptiste left the field Thursday clutching his arm because of an injury Harbaugh said “looks pretty serious.”
That could mean a plunge back into uncertainty for the former second-round pick, who has played just five career games. It could also leave the Ravens without an obvious candidate to complete their defensive backfield. They have Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young ready to start at cornerback and rookie Anthony Averett in the wings. But reserve corner Maurice Canady has been limited by injuries, and the Ravens might have to lean on safety Anthony Levine Jr. to help cover slot receivers. Or they could look for an outside addition.
Regardless, Jean-Baptiste’s injury stung far worse than anyone could have anticipated a month ago.
Kaare Vedvik will kick for some NFL team this season.
The most impressive rookie free agent in Ravens camp is a player with no chance to make the team’s 53-man roster.
The Ravens already have the best kicker in the league in Justin Tucker. So when Vedvik sent a 56-yard field goal screaming low and hard over the crossbar Thursday, he did nothing to increase his chances for permanent work in Baltimore.
But he did put an exclamation point on an attention-grabbing summer that will probably land him a job kicking for some other team.
The “Wolf Pack” of Tucker, punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox takes pride in preparing camp apprentices for jobs in other NFL cities. Just ask Wil Lutz, who went straight from the Ravens’ training complex to a job kicking for the New Orleans Saints two seasons ago.
If anything, Vedvik has drawn more effusive praise than Lutz, with Tucker and Koch marveling at the sheer force of his kicks.
He’s excelled as both a punter and a kicker in the preseason, and it’s no surprise that trade rumors have begun to swirl around the Norwegian bomber.
Kudos to the Ravens if they extract a late-round pick for a player they have no intention of keeping. It would be a deserved payoff for their attention to detail in developing special teams talent.