As Lamar Jackson made his way to the field Wednesday night at Camden Yards, he found himself in a familiar position. Being chased.
He was repeatedly stopped in the corridors by fans seeking a picture, an autograph, a handshake, a conversation. Jackson never said no. He was gracious and approachable, a lot easier to chase down than he is on Sunday afternoons.
Being the Ravens' franchise quarterback comes with demands and expectations, but Jackson is embracing all of them. As he waited for the rain to stop at Camden Yards before throwing out his first pitch, Jackson was asked how he deals with all the scrutiny that has surrounds him.
"I'm the quarterback for the Ravens," Jackson said, smiling. "That's my job. What I signed up for."
Jackson's development as a gifted 22-year-old work-in-progress will be a hot topic during the sultry days of training camp, not just in Baltimore but around the NFL. His explosive running ability makes him one of the league's most unique dual-threat quarterbacks, and he's now the centerpiece of an offense that has been redesigned to accentuate his skills.
Visiting Camden Yards was a temporary diversion for Jackson, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the Orioles – took on the Washington Nationals Wednesday night, two days before Jackson reported for training camp. But his mind never strays far from a more serious endeavor – his mission to lead the Ravens back to the playoffs and a Super Bowl run.
As he pursues that goal, Jackson never has to look far to find supporters or detractors. Some believe Jackson is headed for stardom. Others question his ability to become a more accurate thrower or doubt he will remain healthy long-term if running remains a major part of his game.
NFL Network's Kyle Brandt called Jackson one off the NFL’s most pivotal players this season.
Jackson tunes out that noise and focuses on his craft. After the Ravens' June mandatory minicamp, Jackson organized his own offsite workout in Florida with quarterback Robert Griffin III and wide receivers Willie Snead IV and Chris Moore.
People who know Jackson are not surprised by his focus on football. When the Ravens traded up to draft Jackson, they were intrigued not only by his talent but his love of the game. Nobody would have to twist Jackson's arm to throw on his own, to study film, to organize offseason workouts with teammates.
Head Coach John Harbaugh hasn't been shy about his belief in Jackson as the right quarterback to move forward with.
"You build around your players, and nobody more so than your quarterback," Harbaugh said following mandatory minicamp. "You identify who your quarterback is going to be, which we've done. We need to build everything around what he can do. Offense, defense, and even special teams are built with that in mind: 'What kind of a team are we going to be based on the skillset of the quarterback?' That's what we're trying to do."
Jackson believes his offseason work will give him a head start into training camp and pay dividends this fall. As a rookie, Jackson didn't take first-team reps until 10 games into the season when he became the starter. He had to build comfort running the offense on the fly. Despite leading the Ravens to a 6-1 regular-season finish, Jackson was playing catchup.
Heading into training camp this year, Jackson wanted to be on the same page with more of his targets, to enter training camp with command of the offense. Jackson believes those goals have been accomplished.
"Absolutely," Jackson said. "(Last year) I came in at the end of the season, didn't really have any chemistry with them. So I just wanted to take a little part of my summer break and get with the guys."
At mandatory minicamp, Ravens Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda saw a more self-assured Jackson than the quarterback who ended last season.
"He's definitely commanding the huddle with more confidence from last year, just calling the plays," Yanda said. "And, you can see he's settling in a little bit, which you should be in your second year, and he's definitely done that. He has a long ways to go, just like all young guys do, but he's definitely shown growth."
This will be Jackson's second Ravens training camp, but so many things have changed since last year. It's a different offense with a new offensive coordinator (Greg Roman), and the Ravens made offseason moves to spice up the offense, drafting Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and Justice Hill, and signing Mark Ingram II and Seth Roberts during free agency.
During his visit to Camden Yards, Jackson wore an Orioles No. 8 jersey, and afterward he sent a Twitter message to Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., who wore that number during his legendary Orioles career.
Jackson is clear about chasing greatness and looks at training camp as part of the process.
"Ready for it," Jackson said. "It's about time to get started."