Inevitably, from the moment the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson, there’s been speculation about when he might push Joe Flacco for the starting quarterback job.
This year? Next year? Never?
The possibility of it happening in 2018 has tantalized some fans and a slice of the national media, but after watching Thursday’s open-to-the-media Organized Team Activity practice at the Under Armour Performance Center, it’s clear there’s really no competition right now.
Flacco might be the only non-Heisman Trophy winner among the three “name” quarterbacks on the roster (including Robert Griffin III with Flacco and Jackson), but he is assuredly the most polished pro.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone. There are reasons why Griffin was drafted No. 2 overall six years ago, but he was out of the NFL last season. Jackson, 21, is the second-youngest player on the Ravens’ OTA roster; just getting started as a pro, he is still learning the playbook.
The talent that made Jackson worthy of a first round pick was evident Thursday, but Flacco, 33, has quarterbacked the Ravens through parts of three U.S. presidential administrations while making 169 regular-season and postseason starts. One of his 102 career wins was, of course, in Super Bowl 47.
In fact, Flacco is so experienced, so steeped in the Ravens’ offensive design, that he’s apparently doing a lot of talking these days in the quarterbacks’ classroom sessions. James Urban, the position coach, is new to Baltimore in 2018, as are Jackson and Griffin. Flacco is the answer man.
His superiority isn’t just a function of having more experience and continuity, either. Flacco may have had his ups and downs in recent seasons, but you can’t watch him for long on the practice field without recognizing that he’s simply a natural when it comes to throwing a football.
As the three quarterbacks alternated snaps Thursday through lengthy passing-game drills, it was impossible not to hold them up to the light and compare. Jackson and Griffin made some nice throws, but Flacco was markedly taller and more commanding, and the natural ease of his delivery and consistency of his tosses stood out.
It didn’t matter if he was throwing to a receiver on a short, intermediate or long route. With but a few exceptions, he hit them all in stride with feathery spirals.
Amid the controversy about Flacco that endlessly airs, it sometimes gets forgotten that he has few peers among NFL quarterbacks in the art of throwing a classic, catchable ball. On Thursday, he was not unlike a baseball pitcher with perfect mechanics, repeating his delivery seemingly effortlessly, with enviable results.
In fact, one of my thoughts coming away from the practice was the Ravens need to get back to taking more advantage of his major league arm. Let him throw the ball downfield.
I understand nothing generates buzz more than a good quarterback controversy, and after three straight non-playoff seasons, the Ravens aren’t opposed to anything generating buzz.
But their quarterback “situation” simply isn’t a fair fight at this point.
Things can always change, of course. Who knows what might happen if the Ravens offense continues to struggle in 2018 after so many skill-position changes? A quarterback drafted with a first-round pick isn’t coming in to sit.
The caliber of Jackson’s arm was also evident at times Thursday, and it was instantly clear he has the rare ability to make something positive happen when a play breaks down. When his receivers weren’t open, he didn’t linger in the pocket for a beat too long and take the sack. He dodged his pursuers and took off downfield.
During one such escape, Jackson let out a primal scream as he narrowly avoided second-year linebacker Tim Williams. You couldn’t help but laugh. It was a wonderful show of exuberance, spontaneous rather than scripted – the sound of a young man who is accustomed to pulling off amazing feats on the football field.
That’s probably going to become the soundtrack of the Ravens offense at some point in the coming years – yup, a primal scream. What a different and electric tune it is.
That’s a piece of the future, though. Not the present.