Three preseason games, five weeks and hundreds of training camp throws still separate Lamar Jackson from Week 1, but it’s not hard to imagine what the Ravens quarterback will look like come Sept. 11.
Through a week and a half of training camp, Jackson has been more consistently accurate than he’s ever been over five summers in Baltimore, and his range as a passer has never been greater. Even with the Ravens’ top wide receiver, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, traded this offseason, and their top left tackle, Ronnie Stanley, still not cleared to practice, Jackson has inspired rave reviews from coaches and teammates.
“He’s throwing it probably better than I’ve ever seen him throw it,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said last week. “He’s really worked hard in the offseason, and it’s showing, so he’s got to build on that. It’s really exciting. We’re all very excited about that. And now we’ve all got to get on the same page, so we can function as a unit and … take every ounce of that performance and maximize it.”
Under the Ravens’ reporting guidelines for training camp, only so much of the offense’s shape and structure can be shared. But Jackson’s offseason improvements have flashed in one highlight after another throughout the team’s nine practices in Owings Mill and inside M&T Bank Stadium.
Roman has said that Jackson’s refined passing ability could change how he calls the game. But it could also change how Jackson himself attacks defenses. Here’s a look at some of Jackson’s best throws of camp, and what they could portend for the season ahead.
On the first day of camp, Jackson introduced himself to the defense with a pinpoint throw to Duvernay in 11-on-11 action. With blitzing inside linebacker Kristian Welch bearing down on him, Jackson reached the end of his three-step drop, swiveled to his right and fired toward Duvernay.
Cornerback Kevon Seymour was running step for step with the third-year wideout, but he didn’t turn his head until it was too late. Jackson put his back-shoulder throw where only Duvernay could get it. As he tipped out of bounds, Duvernay reached back for the ball, got both feet inbounds and secured the first-down catch.
“Those things are points of emphasis for Lamar in the offseason,” coach John Harbaugh said. “To see him come in and make those throws is really a positive thing for us. We just have to keep building on it.”
Jackson didn’t attempt a single back-shoulder fade last season, according to Sports Info Solutions. Backup Tyler Huntley attempted just one. Elsewhere in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger threw 17, and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow 10.
The throw could be an enticing option for Jackson this season, especially with the 6-foot-1 Rashod Bateman replacing the diminutive Brown as the Ravens’ top outside receiver. If opposing defenses have to commit a safety to stopping the Ravens’ rushing attack, Jackson should have more opportunities to attack cornerbacks left alone in coverage.
Even in practice, former Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale was never shy about threatening quarterbacks with an all-out blitz or actually bringing one. But after impressing early in his career against heavy pressure, be it from Martindale or opposing defenses, Jackson took a step back last season.
According to SIS, Jackson was 6-for-18 for 41 yards and no touchdowns in 2021 against “Cover 0″ schemes, which leave just one defender in coverage for each receiver, and blitz with the rest. The Miami Dolphins, in particular, rattled Jackson with their aggressive approach in a Week 10 upset win.
Across the NFL, quarterbacks are treated like an endangered species in camp, with pass rushers told to avoid making contact. But Jackson so far has looked cool and composed in the face of new coordinator Mike Macdonald’s pressure-heavy looks. And if he hasn’t liked Roman’s play call, he’s shown a willingness to change it at the line of scrimmage.
On Wednesday, Jackson lined up in the shotgun as the opposing defense showed a Cover 0 presnap look. With the play clock ticking down, Jackson appeared to audible into a new play. After reorganizing the offense and getting the snap off just in time, he took a quick drop before hitting wide receiver Tylan Wallace, running an out-breaking route into open space against cornerback Kyle Fuller. No one came close to sacking him.
Jackson’s best throw of camp might also prove to be the most important. On Wednesday, during a play-action-heavy 11-on-11 period, he found Proche, typically more of a short-range and intermediate target, streaking past safety Chuck Clark downfield. Jackson’s 65-yard touchdown strike hit Proche in the numbers just a few yards from the goal line. It all looked so easy.
“I think it’s amazing to see that he can, without extending his arm, just [throw] with the flick of the wrist, and it’s like shot-putting a ball 50, 60 yards down the field,” right tackle Morgan Moses said. “Anytime you have an elite guy like that, it’s our job as the offensive line to keep him upright, keep him out there, because obviously, when he’s out there, the percentage of winning the game goes up a lot.”
Harbaugh targeted the Ravens’ downfield passing game for improvement months ago. Jackson went 17-for-50 on passes of at least 20 yards downfield last season, finishing with three touchdowns and four interceptions, according to SIS. Among the 34 NFL quarterbacks with at least 20 such deep attempts, Jackson ranked 25th in accuracy (34%) and 25th in passer rating (66.0). Brown’s shaky hands hurt the offense’s production, but Jackson and the offensive line both struggled as well.
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Throughout camp, Jackson has rarely forced the action downfield. Even when he threw into double coverage on a shot play for Bateman on Tuesday, the ball was placed in such a way that only Bateman could make a play on it. (Unfortunately for Jackson, the ball slipped through his hands.)
Just as encouraging has been Jackson’s willingness to spread the ball around. Bateman, Duvernay, Proche and tight ends Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely have all had at least one deep catch this camp.
“It’s great going against one of the premier quarterbacks in this league right now,” safety Marcus Williams said Friday. “Going against someone like that every single day will make your defense better, because you never know what he’s going to do. He can throw the ball very well; he can run the ball. So we just always have to be on our ‘A’ game every single day.”
With Bateman and Duvernay missing on Friday, and much of the practice focused on red-zone work, Jackson struggled somewhat to find the open man. But he opened the Ravens’ first 11-on-11 period with two red-zone throws the offense needs more of.
On the Ravens’ first play, starting at about the 10-yard line, Jackson faked a handoff and rolled out before finding Andrews for a touchdown. On the next play, a few yards closer to the goal line, Jackson hung in against a blitz and threw another dart to an open Andrews in the middle of the end zone.
Jackson has been largely mistake-free in the red zone this camp, with both of his interceptions coming closer to midfield. The emergence of Likely has also helped; the rookie had back-to-back touchdowns in a red-zone drill Thursday, outjumping safety Geno Stone for his first score before securing a juggled catch against inside linebacker Diego Fagot on the next play.
Jackson will appreciate the extra help. He was solid but unspectacular when passing inside the 20 last season: 29-for-50 for 207 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions, with four sacks taken. According to SIS, his 90.6 passer rating ranked 27th and his 58% accuracy ranked 19th among quarterbacks with at least 20 red-zone pass attempts in 2021.