Eisenberg: Ravens Are Trying to Accomplish Three Things at Once With Lamar Jackson


It seems crazy that the Ravens' rookies are reporting to the Under Armour Performance Center for training camp in four days.

I mean, didn't we just watch July 4th fireworks?

Most of the veterans will get another week of summer vacation before they report and begin the long grind that doesn't end until winter. But camp is starting earlier for everyone this year because the Ravens are playing in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 2, and for the rookies, who stayed in Owings Mills for awhile after last month's mandatory minicamp, it means almost no break at all.

Lamar Jackson certainly didn't sound like he had anything exotic planned when he spoke to the media at the end of minicamp.

Asked what he hoped to accomplish in the month before training camp started, Jackson said, "A lot of film, a lot of grinding, get a little lift in, keep my body in shape, and just watch film and go over the playbook a lot. That's all."

Didn't he want to get away from football at least for a little while?

"Can't get away," he said. "Keep your mind running … keep it fresh."

The Ravens have been delighted with Jackson's businesslike approach since they selected him at the end of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Although he's just 21 and thus one of the team's youngest players, he has been mature and purposeful.

"Since he's got here, he's been all ears, so to speak," Head Coach John Harbaugh said last month. "He wants to learn, is a very hard worker, very smart guy."

That skill set is desirable in any young player and the Ravens are especially excited to see it in Jackson because few players will have more on their plate when camp begins. As I see it, the Ravens are trying to accomplish three things at once with him.

For starters, they're trying to figure out how to use him this season. Joe Flacco is still the clear-cut starter, his arm and experience giving him such an edge that, as I wrote before, there really isn't a competition right now. Nonetheless, Jackson's playmaking has stood out on the practice field, creating an opportunity for a team that has suffered from a playmaking deficit recently.

How are they going to deploy him? That's the big question. Do they put him on the field with Flacco and let the fun begin? Make him a red zone specialist? The possibilities are many.

"It gets the creative juices flowing for our offensive coaches, and they've worked hard at it," Harbaugh said.

But while Jackson's immediate use is Topic A for now, a team doesn't use a first-round pick on a quarterback without believing he'll eventually become the starter. Flacco will keep the No. 1 job as long as he continues to deserve it, but there's no doubt an apprenticeship of sorts is underway – the process of preparing Jackson to start at some point.

James Urban, the Ravens' new quarterback coach, assessed his general development last month.

"I've seen his ability to talk our language and the verbiage – so that's improved. Then, certainly, throwing mechanics have improved. Now, everything is a work in progress. We're heading in the right direction. There's much, much to do, but he's done well so far," Urban said.

What else are the Ravens trying to accomplish with Jackson besides figuring out how to use him in the short term and working on his long-range development? It's obvious, isn't it? They're trying to keep him healthy.

That's easier said than done in the NFL with quarterbacks who like to run, as current Ravens backup Robert Griffin III can attest. Injuries have set him back repeatedly as he tries to live up to the ballyhoo of having been a No. 2 overall draft pick.

Griffin can mentor Jackson in many ways, but high on the list, no question, is helping him learn how best to protect himself.

It's a vital lesson that adds to the football curriculum Jackson is already undertaking this year, but I'm guessing the Ravens and their new quarterback wouldn't have it any other way.

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