Lamar Jackson loves to play. He doesn’t like to wait.
You could almost feel Jackson getting antsy at his Wednesday press conference, anticipating Sunday’s season-opener against the Miami Dolphins.
The Ravens will be playing just a short drive from Jackson’s hometown of Pompano Beach, Fla., and while he would be excited to open the season anywhere, doing so in front of family and friends will add extra pizzazz.
“That’s pretty dope,” Jackson said. “I just can’t wait to get in that environment. I know it’s going to be crazy. Fans are going to be going wild. I just can’t wait to put on a show.
“A lot of people keep hitting me up, telling me they’re going to be out there. I probably won’t see them all. (But) they’ll see me.”
Jackson is not the same player who joined the Ravens as a rookie last season. He is still only 22 years old, but he is fully-adjusted to the microscopic attention that comes with being the franchise quarterback. Has has also worked diligently to improve his passing and silence his critics.
Things have changed dramatically for Jackson since the start of last season. How much does he think about that?
“Yeah, I do actually think about it, especially when I make mistakes,” Jackson said. “The rookie mistakes. I catch myself. I’m like, ‘Ah man I did that last year. I can’t do it this year.’ But I’m having fun with it. I’m enjoying it. I grew a lot from last year, I just can’t wait to go out there and perform.”
Not only is Jackson the Ravens’ most-talked about player, but he will be running a redesigned offense that the coaching staff built around Jackson’s skillset and has kept largely under wraps during the preseason.
How will Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman utilize the Ravens’ weapons, especially new ones like rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, and running back Mark Ingram II? Will Jackson’s improvement as a passer result in him running less often?
Jackson didn’t play the final two preseason games, and the starting offensive line didn’t play together the entire preseason. Yet when the Ravens take the field Sunday, Jackson says they can’t use first-game jitters or the new offense as excuses not to play well.
“We’ve been doing it every day in practice,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to do it in practice first. As soon as we get out on the field, we’re going 100 miles an hour.”
Heading into Week 1 last season, Jackson was the backup quarterback to Joe Flacco. Twelve months later, Flacco is the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback, and Jackson holds the keys to the Ravens’ offense.
Despite that transition, Jackson’s approach hasn’t changed. He understands that being the starting quarterback puts him in the spotlight, but he’s focusing his play, not the scrutiny.
“I look at myself like one of the guys,” Jackson said. “I want the guys to look at me like I’m one of them. I don’t treat anyone different. I don’t think I’m above anyone. It’s a team game. That’s just how I embrace it.”
Yet, there is no denying that Jackson will be the main cog in the new offense. The best glimpse of what Jackson can do occurred in Week 2 of the preseason, on his dazzling 18-yard scramble for a touchdown that was nullified by a penalty. The play didn’t count, but the impression it left did.
Jackson has improved as a passer, but his explosive running ability adds a dimension that makes him even more difficult to defend. After signing with the Ravens during free agency, veteran safety Earl Thomas III has already seen enough from Jackson to know he has special gifts.
“I’ve heard about all of the great runs, the [Michael] Vick comparisons, but the run he had against Green Bay in the preseason game when he hurdled a guy? … First, he juked somebody, then he hurdled him. That was exciting to see,” Thomas said.
Jackson said the Ravens are still adding tweaks, but he’s excited about the diverse formations and packages. On Sunday, we’ll finally get a look at the new offense, and the improved Jackson, in regular-season conditions. What does Jackson want people to think?
“Hopefully that it’s the best offense they’ve ever seen,” Jackson said. “That’s what I’m going for.”