Eisenberg: Most Eagerly Anticipated Preseason in Ravens History


Let's face it, Ravens fans don't usually exchange high-fives over the fact that the preseason is starting.

Games played in August matter to the coaches and front office decision-makers trying to pick the roster, and they're huge for players trying to build careers. "It's a very important stretch for a lot of young men," Ravens Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Monday.

But for many fans, the preseason is simply that time when their favorite team plays games that don't count.

Yes, the return of football is a positive, a sign of interesting times just ahead, and checking out how the team's new players look in purple can be fun. But as far as getting truly excited about the preseason, I mean, who goes to the symphony and gets all pumped up while the orchestra is tuning up to play?

This year, though, there's a different feel. Don't faint, but I detect an actual buzz over what surely qualifies as the most eagerly anticipated preseason in Ravens history.

Can that be a thing? I guess so, because here we are.

Even with Head Coach John Harbaugh saying Thursday night's Hall of Fame Game against the Chicago Bears in Canton, Ohio, will be "like a practice," it's going to be close to must-see TV for Baltimore fans. And I expect that to be the case for the rest of the Ravens' preseason.

Why the ramped-up interest? That's obvious, isn't it? The Ravens turned the local football scene upside down when they selected quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft in April, and after months of practices and classroom work, he'll make his pro debut Thursday night. Then he'll continue to take snaps throughout August.

He won't step under center nearly as much, if at all, once the regular season begins, so the opportunity to see him in that role might be fleeting. He might take part in some trickery with Joe Flacco, who remains the Ravens' starter by a clear-cut margin with Jackson, 21, a rookie backup still learning the trade.

But an organization doesn't invest a first-round pick in a quarterback without thinking he'll eventually become the starter, which makes Jackson a central figure in the franchise's long-range blueprint. Given that, how can there not be fevered interest in seeing him take the field for the first time as a pro?

There's also the fact that Jackson was such a dynamic playmaker in college that he earned a Heisman Trophy as well as lasting renown for owning a highlight reel that couldn't be topped. Before the draft, everyone wanted to know where he would land. Now that he's here, interest in the Ravens has soared outside of Baltimore.

The Ravens have been delighted with his commitment and professionalism since they drafted him, and they're seeing his passing skills quickly improve. In Monday's practice, he took a quick snap and hit fellow rookie Jordan Lasley for a long touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone – a sharp play by any measure.

As for what happens when he scrambles, there's a reason teammates have compared him to Michael Vick.

I'm sure NBC isn't sorry the Ravens are on the season's first national television broadcast Thursday night, giving millions of fans around the country exactly what they're looking for – their first glimpse of Jackson as a pro.

With Flacco not expected to play, the Ravens probably will start Robert Griffin III and let him take the snaps for awhile before giving way to Jackson – an interesting subplot in itself as Griffin seeks to resurrect a career that began with such promise.

When Jackson does take the field, fans (and his teammates, too, don't kid yourself) will root for him to show off his trademark playmaking skills. Mornhinweg, meanwhile, will monitor his under-construction fundamentals. Jackson has made "a couple little adjustments," the OC explained, "and I want to see that during a game."

In the end, though, Mornhinweg said he wants to see Jackson "just turn it loose and play ball; that's what we're looking for."

Aren't we all?

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