As expected, all eyes are on Lamar Jackson as the Ravens work through their schedule of Organized Team Activity practices.
How is he throwing? Do his mechanics look different? Are his spirals spiraling?
Also: How is he commanding the first-team offense? How is his rapport with his teammates? What about his ball security?
The reporters at practice are wondering about all that and more, as are the fans.
I get it. The Ravens have rebuilt their offense around Jackson. They’re counting on him being a more effective passer and more polished quarterback in 2019. His improvement is crucial to the team’s playoff prospects, and with the start of the 2019 season still more than three months away, his practice performances are all we’ve got to measure.
But I would caution against reading too much into what we’re seeing.
For starters, when games are being won and lost in September and October, no one is going to remember what happened in May and June. But more importantly, practice isn’t the place for Jackson to unleash the skills that make him so unique and valuable.
His eye-popping speed. His elusiveness. The creativity and instincts that make him so dangerous when a play breaks downs.
One gets an occasional glimpse of all that on the practice field, but with players wearing shorts and contact prohibited, plays are truncated and it takes a vivid imagination to envision the magical moments Jackson creates.
At the risk of channeling Allen Iverson’s infamous rant, it’s just practice, man.
I’m not saying it isn’t important. To the contrary, Jackson, 22, is still very much on the upslope of a learning curve, developing the fundamentals a quarterback needs in the NFL. With practice time limited, every rep is a means to the end the Ravens want to see with him.
But the conditions aren’t ripe for him to dazzle. This isn’t the place for that.
A year ago, weeks after the Ravens drafted Jackson, he stood next to Joe Flacco in passing drills during OTAs. It was impossible not to compare, and also impossible not to see that Flacco, who had been in the NFL for a decade, had the stronger arm and was far more polished. There wasn’t going to be a quarterback controversy. Flacco, one of the purest throwers you’ll ever see, had rendered it a no-contest situation.
In the end, though, Jackson was more successful than Flacco at steering the Ravens to victory in 2018.
They were 4-5 and looking at missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years when Flacco suffered an injury and Jackson stepped under center. You know what happened. Jackson electrified the offense and the Ravens went 6-1 down the stretch to capture their first AFC North title since 2012.
No one who watched those OTA practices last spring could have predicted such a scenario playing out.
Jackson didn’t win more games than Flacco months later because he suddenly was a purer passer or more polished quarterback than Flacco. His other skills, those seldom evident on the practice field, carried him to success. He was more elusive with the ball in his hand, more unpredictable, able to make something good out of nothing when a play broke down.
Today, Flacco plays for the Denver Broncos and Jackson is the starter in Baltimore, the new face of the franchise. The Ravens are counting on him continuing to use the talents that worked so well last season. They’re also counting on him becoming a more consistent passer, better at holding on to the ball, etc.
Those latter skills, the ones in development, are an important part of his project ascendency, as is the experience he gains in every practice and game. But I believe I’m safe in saying the skills that make Jackson so dangerous are already part of his football DNA, as baked into him as any physical trait. And the time to see them in their full glory is the fall, when he can turn them loose in games that count.