Three preseason games, five weeks, and hundreds of training camps still separate Lamar Jackson from Week 1, but it’s not hard to imagine what the Ravens quarterback will look like on September 11.
During a week and a half of training camp, Jackson has been more consistently accurate than he had five summers in Baltimore, and his range as a passer has never been greater. Even with the Ravens’ top wide receiver, Marquis “Hollywood” Brown, traded this offseason, and his top left tackle, Ronnie Stanley, still not cleared to practice, Jackson coached. And inspired reviews from teammates.
“He’s throwing it probably better than I’ve ever seen him throw it,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said last week, “He’s worked really hard in the off-season, and it’s showing, so he has to build on that. It’s really exciting. We’re all very excited about it. And now we all have to be on the same page. , so we can act as a unit and … take every ounce of that performance and maximize it.”
Under the Ravens’ reporting guidelines for training camp, only the size and structure of the offense can be shared. But during the team’s nine practices at Owings Mill and inside M&T Bank Stadium, Jackson’s off-season improvements have shone in one highlight after another.
Roman has said that Jackson’s sophisticated passing ability may change how he calls the game. But it may also change how Jackson attacks the defense himself. Here’s a look at some of the best throws from Jackson’s camp, and what they could portend for the season ahead.
Back-shoulder throw to Devin DuVernay
On the first day of camp, Jackson introduced himself to the defense with a pinpoint throw to DuVernay in 11-on-11 action. With a bang inside linebacker Christian Welch, Jackson reached the end of his three-stage drop, swung to his right and fired toward DuVernay.
Cornerback Kevon Seymour was running step by step with a third year wideout, but didn’t turn his head until it was too late. Jackson placed his back-shoulder throw where only DuVernay could get it. As he got out of bounds, DuVernay reaches back for the ball, takes both feet inside and takes a first-down catch.
“Those things are the point of emphasis for Lamar in the off-season,” said coach John Harbaugh. “To see him come in and make those throws is a really positive thing for us. We just have to keep building on it.”
According to SportsInfo Solutions, Jackson didn’t attempt a single back-shoulder fade last season. Backup Tyler Huntley made just one attempt. Elsewhere in the AFC North, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger threw 17 and Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrows threw 10.
The throw could be an attractive option for Jackson this season, especially with 6-foot-1 Rashod Bateman replacing Kamin Brown as the Ravens’ top outside receiver. If the opposing defense is to commit to defenses to stop the Ravens’ rapid attack, Jackson should have more opportunities to attack the cornerbacks left alone in coverage.
Blitz Beater to Tylon Wallace
Even in practice, former Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale was never shy about threatening a quarterback with an all-out blitz or actually bringing one. But after impressing early in his career against heavy pressure, whether from Martindale or opposing strongholds, Jackson took a step back last season.
According to SIS, Jackson was 6-for-18 for 41 yards and had no touchdowns in 2021 against “cover 0″ plans, which leaves just one defender in coverage for each receiver, and blitzes with the rest. The Miami Dolphins, in particular, upset Jackson with his aggressive approach in a Week 10 upset win.
Across the NFL, quarterbacks, treated like an endangered species in camp, are told to avoid contact with pass rushers. But Jackson has so far looked calm and calm in the face of the pressure-heavy look of new coordinator Mike McDonald. And if she didn’t like Roman’s call to play, she showed a willingness to turn it into a line of scrimmage.
On Wednesday, Jackson lined up in shotgun as the opposing defense showed a cover 0 presnap look. With the play’s clock ticking, Jackson appeared to be audible in a new play. After rearranging the offense and receiving a timely snap, he took a quick fall before hitting wide receiver Tylen Wallace, driving an out-breaking route into the open position against cornerback Kyle Fuller. No one came close to sacking him.
Deep Shot to James Proche II
Jackson’s best throw of camp could also prove to be the most important. On Wednesday, during a play-action-heavy 11-on-11 period, he found Proche, usually a short distance and over intermediate goal, staring past safety Chuck Clark downfield. Jackson’s 65-yard touchdown strike struck Prosh just a few yards from the goal line. It all seemed so easy.
“I think it’s amazing to see that he can, without raising his hand, just [throw] With the flick of the wrist, and it’s like shot-putting the ball 50, 60 yards off the field,” said Morgan Moses. “Whenever you have an elite guy like that, it’s our job to keep him straight, put him out there, because obviously, when he’s out there, the percentage of winning the game goes up a lot.”
Harbagh Targeted Ravens’ downfield passing game for improvement months ago. According to SIS, Jackson went 17-for-50 last season, finishing with three touchdowns and four interceptions for at least 20 yards. Of the 34 NFL quarterbacks with at least 20 such deep attempts, Jackson ranks 25th in accuracy (34%) and passer rating (66.0). Brown’s trembling hands hurt the production of the offense, but both Jackson and the offensive line struggled as well.
Throughout camp, Jackson rarely forced downfield action. Even when he threw in double coverage on a one-shot play for Bateman on Tuesday, the ball was placed in such a way that only Bateman could make a play on it. (Unfortunately the ball slipped out of Jackson’s hands.)
Just as Jackson’s willingness to spread the ball around has been encouraging. Bateman, DuVernay, Proche and tight ends Mark Andrews and Isaiah may have all held at least one deep in this camp.
“It’s great to go up against one of the leading quarterbacks in this league right now,” safety Marcus Williams said on Friday. “Your defense will be better than going up against someone like that every day, because you never know what he’s going to do. He can throw the ball very well; he can drive the ball. Day will always have to be on his ‘A’ game.”
Red-zone throw to Mark Andrews
With the disappearance of Bateman and DuVernay on Friday and much of the exercise 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, requiring more of the offense.
On the Ravens’ first play, starting around the 10-yard line, Jackson faked a handoff and rolled out before finding Andrews for a touchdown. In the next game, a few yards closer to the goal line, Jackson hung against a blitz and threw another dart to Andrews, an open in the middle of the end zone.
Jackson has been largely fault-free in this camp’s red zone, with both of his interceptions coming close to midfield. The emergence of possibility has also helped; The rookie had back-to-back touchdowns in a red-zone drill on Thursday, overtaking safety Geno Stone for his first score before securing a charming catch against inside linebacker Diego Fagot in the next game.
Jackson would appreciate the additional help. He was solid but unexpected when passing inside 20 of last season: 29-for-50 for 207 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions, which took four sacks. According to SIS, his 90.6 passer rating is ranked 27th and his 58% accuracy ranks 19th among quarterbacks with at least 20 red-zone pass attempts in 2021.