- Baltimore has loaded up on new offensive weapons for their longtime starter, and he’s looking sharp while presumptive heir Lamar Jackson and veteran RGIII take reps with the backups
WHO: Baltimore Ravens
WHERE: Owings Mills, Md.
WHEN: Tuesday, July 31
HOW: Via rented Nissan Maxima, three hour and 26 minute drive from White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Three first-round picks (one Super Bowl MVP, one Heisman Trophy winner and one former NFL rookie of the year) and a plucky, undrafted free agent playing on his seventh NFL roster in two years populate the Ravens’ quarterback room. The arrival of Lamar Jackson tipped the scales from curiosity to outright rubbernecking around the league. Perhaps the beginning of the end for Joe Flacco. The beginning of a new Ravens identity on offense.
But on this damp morning northwest of Baltimore, it looked like any changing of the guard was still beyond the horizon. Consider the pecking order in almost every one of the team-oriented offensive drills on Tuesday:
11 on 11: Joe Flacco, Robert Griffin, Lamar Jackson, Griffin, Jackson
7 on 7: Flacco, Jackson, Griffin
QB/WR route practice: Flacco, Griffin, Jackson
Full offense vs. air: Flacco, Jackson
11 on 11: Flacco, Jackson
The Ravens will tell you that this is one of Flacco’s best camps ever, and it’s easy to wonder whether that’s because of motivation brought on by increased competition, better health or by comparison to the other quarterbacks (meaning that Griffin and Jackson are getting used to a new offense and, in Jackson’s case maybe a few new route concepts). The latter may indeed be a factor—Jackson is undeniably talented but still has some work to do. However, it’s hard to say that Flacco doesn’t look objectively sharp.
In the most contentious 11-on-11 period he was 3-of-6 and picked up a pair of first downs. By my count, Jackson was 4-of-9, and while that included some overthrows at a short distance, it also included some well-thrown high-risk balls into the end zone. Jackson’s deep ball is beautiful, and the release is quick. On Tuesday the trouble seemed to come intermediately, within 15 yards from the center on routes that required a receiver to be led horizontally.
Jackson said he’s working on keeping a wider base, the main mechanical alteration this offseason. Quarterbacks coach James Urban said that the Ravens will not dissuade him from using his mobility, but that he has no choice but to continue developing as a pocket passer in the NFL. “Some of it’s mechanical, some of it is understanding the route and the route concept, and how that’s going to feel to him,” Urban said. “So much of that timing is how it feels to a quarterback, so every rep we take is important. So we can continue to increase the understanding of the timing.”
This seems to be a high-yield investment Baltimore is prepared to make, while reaping some of the immediate benefits, such as Jackson’s ability to change the tempo and matchup scenarios in a game, immediately.
In the meantime Flacco will get his run with a new set of weapons, a back who isn’t hurting and a fire under his feet. If that’s enough, the Ravens will be better stocked at quarterback than most teams in the league.
OH I DIDN’T KNOW THAT: The Ravens spent the offseason shopping at the receiver equivalent of Nordstrom Rack. The haul? Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead—the largest and perhaps most aggressive remodel in the Flacco era. Word is that Brown is having a great camp and was a pace-setter during one of the 11-on-11 sessions Tuesday. Brown, and the emphasis on restocking at tight end, should give Flacco a lot more presence in the passing game between one and 15 yards. Baltimore had an odd distribution through the air last year, finishing dead last in passing plays short left but first in short passing plays over the middle and sixth in passes short right. The disparity continued deep, with the Ravens finishing 32nd in passing plays deep left and 25th in plays deep to the middle.
STORYLINE TO WATCH: The Ravens and Urban did nothing to dissuade anyone from the notion that Jackson and Flacco may at times appear on the field together. Urban cited his time in Philadelphia when both Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb took snaps together.
“There’s conversations you have, exactly where you want each player,” Urban said. “Exactly when you use it, how you use it, those kinds of things, but you know, we have experience. They both want to win football games. While we may ask one or both of them to do something they’re not accustomed to doing, traditionally speaking, they both want to win football games. So, we’re going to do it.”
Whether this is something the Ravens simply want Flacco to know they have at their disposal, or something they want other teams to spend a vague amount of time preparing for remains to be seen. If Flacco’s good summer carries over, there’s no reason to believe they’d clunk up the offense, but what if the Ravens stumble out of the gate?
TOP POSITION BATTLE: Baltimore is heavy at both tight end and wide receiver, hoping that summer competition will erode the field. Rookie third-round pick Tackle Orlando Brown, the same highly-regarded prospect who bottomed out during his combine workout, will also be under the microscope over his first few preseason games.
OFFBEAT OBSERVATION: Lamar Jackson is preparing for practice by reading his plays in the mirror. “Cause coach gives me the plays, I get in the huddle and I start tongue twisting,” he said. “I’m like, uh, say it again? So I stand in the mirror, try and say the plays to myself to get ready for the next day.”
PARTING THOUGHTS: When you’ve been on the road for a week with a fellow Pennsylvania native, nothing curbs the homesick blues quite like a Wegmans, which we stumbled upon fortuitously on Reisterstown Road en route to Philadelphia. There are few more dependable staples in life—the love of a parent, the price of gold, the orneriness of Tom Coughlin—than the grocery store’s “Tastes of Asia” buffet line.
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