The jump between Year 1 and Year 2 is big for any player in the NFL. There’s just so much to learn as a rookie that it often takes a while for them to just get their head on straight.
For a quarterback, the leap can be especially dramatic. Just ask reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, or Deshaun Watson in Houston.
As Lamar Jackson enters Year 2 in an offense tailored around his skillset, he feels like he also is ready to make a leap.
“Absolutely. I just needed a year, I would say, in the system,” Jackson said. “I actually got another system I had to learn, and just had this time during the summer to prepare for it. It’s been going well. Hopefully it will be a great Year 2.”
The biggest storyline of the summer was Jackson’s development as a passer, and anybody who has visited the Under Armour Performance Center has seen a quarterback that is throwing the ball much better than a year ago.
Jackson’s mechanics are improved, which has in turn improved his accuracy. The ball is coming off his strong right arm much cleaner.
On Tuesday, Jackson lofted a perfect pass to tight end Mark Andrews for what would have been a long score. It was eerily similar to the touchdown Jackson tossed to Andrews in Los Angeles last year – a throw that Jackson’s supporters have pointed to often this offseason when citing evidence of his passing potential.
As training camp officially closed (at least to fans) Tuesday, Jackson was asked if he accomplished his goals.
“Yes, we got after it,” Jackson said. “The defense was giving us great looks. Our offense was moving the ball, making executions, scoring touchdowns. We’re looking good so far.
“I feel pretty good. How do I look? That’s the question.”
Jackson chuckled and threw the question back at reporters Jackson’s comfort level is also noticeable. With Joe Flacco now in Denver, Jackson has taken full command of the offense and his natural leadership is on display.
But perhaps the biggest change from Year 1 to Year 2 is Jackson’s confidence running the offense. Last year at this time, Jackson was practicing calling plays by rehearsing in the mirror.
“I’m way ahead, way ahead of where I was last year,” Jackson said. “Last year, I was asking coach, ‘What do you have right here?’ and stuff like that. This year, it’s a lot of studying, dialing in to my playbook, getting with my teammates in the offseason. They helped a lot.”
Jackson said the game has slowed down for him. He’s always been able to see the field well, but now he’s better able to read defenses and predict what’s going to happen.
“Even with our defense, last year, our defense was flying around. My head was spinning,” Jackson said. “I didn’t know where the guys were coming from, blitzes. The coaches were like, ‘Man, you have to learn how to flip the jets,’ and stuff like that. But this year, I’ve just been sitting back, been a lot [more] comfortable, dialed in.”
Head Coach John Harbaugh explained quarterbacks’ Year 1 to Year 2 jumps as probably being the result of more prepared than they used to. High school and college offenses throw the ball so much more that players have a “better foundation under them already.” Beyond that, it’s getting accustomed to the playmakers around them, what defenses are trying to do and the speed of the game.
Jackson said his first game as a starter last year, in Week 11 against the Cincinnati Bengals, was eye-opening to him about the speed of the game. His mindset is different now. Going into the game, he’s got the basics down cold, he said. So what’s his focus now?
“Making great passes, trying to catch my receivers in stride,” Jackson said. “I’m trying to score a lot of touchdowns this year, finishing in the red zone, because we’ll drive the ball downfield and won’t finish. That was a big key for me this year.”