Lamar Jackson just turned 24 years old, but he doesn't believe in wasting time.
On the field, he's having a torrid stretch, clearly in the zone as the Ravens prepare for Saturday's divisional playoff game in Buffalo. But in other areas, Jackson has found a comfort zone that could help the Ravens reach their ultimate goal.
Teammates follow Jackson's lead, not just because he's a dynamic player or because he's the quarterback. It's also because he's greatly respected.
Marlon Humphrey said he was even more confident the Ravens would win last weekend after listening to Jackson speak to the team the night before the game. When left guard Bradley Bozeman was asked recently what it was like to block for Jackson, Bozeman described what it felt like to play with Jackson.
"He's a better person than he is a player," Bozeman said. "The guy has had every opportunity to let his head get big or just not be a humble guy, and he has continued week in and week out, year in and year out, to continue to keep that strong, hard-fighting mindset. Lamar is a great leader. He's a great teammate. I'm happy to call him my quarterback. I wouldn't pick anyone else in the league, or ever."
With teammates looking for Jackson to lead them, he's doing it in multiple ways. Some are saying that Jackson has matured, but he has always been mature beyond his years. It might be better to say that Jackson is evolving, using past experiences to find what it takes to lead the Ravens to a championship.
"When the Ravens drafted Lamar and he said, 'You're going to get a Super Bowl out of me,' he meant it," Joshua Harris, Jackson's personal quarterback coach said in a telephone interview. "I mean, he really meant it."
Harris loved the narrative heading into the playoffs, when he heard people doubt Jackson's ability to win in the postseason.
"He thrives when people doubt him," Harris said. "I don't even know what you call this younger generation, but he's one of them, and he's always on the phone. He sees what people say about him. Now they can't say he can't win in the playoffs. But don't think he's ready to stop. He's very locked in on this playoff run."
Jackson loves interacting with teammates, but would he have spoken so passionately to the entire team before his first playoff game as a rookie in 2018? Or even last year, in his first full season as a starter?
Even for a great player like Jackson, it takes time to learn when it's best to be assertive, when it's time to stay silent, when it's time to let another voice take the lead. For Jackson, his natural inclination is to lead with his actions, but he has learned that teammates often respond to what he says. The night before the Tennessee game, Jackson felt it was the right time to address the team.
"I'm really not a vocal leader, I pretty much try to lead by example," Jackson said. "But I just wanted my guys to get the message … we're all going to do our job playing against that tough defense and playing against that tough team. Just take it one play at a time until it's zero, zero, zero on the clock. And that's what our guys did. We fought hard the whole game. Even with the turnover I had early in the game, everyone kept their laser-sharp focus. We've just got to keep the same mentality going into this game and so forth."
Harris has no doubt that Jackson's mind is in a great place. When Jackson returned from the Reserve/COVID-19 list following a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Harris said Jackson became more committed to playing the game on his terms. What does that mean? Basically, using all the tools in his box without hesitation.
"I'm just attacking the game more, being more aggressive," Jackson said. "I'll say, in the beginning of the season, I was conservative a lot; just staying back and getting sacked a lot more. But as the season went on, [when] things break down, my first read is not there, second read is not there, I take advantage of what the defense gives me. That's pretty much the biggest thing."
That was clearly evident during Jackson's brilliant 48-yard touchdown scamper against the Titans. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman noted how impressed he was that Jackson noticed the Titans in a coverage that left them vulnerable to his running ability. Jackson made the Titans pay dearly for that mistake.
Harris said Jackson will make those kind of decisions more often as he continues to evolve as a quarterback. Everyone knows Jackson is a gifted athlete. But Harris doesn't think Jackson gets enough credit for the thinking part of the game, especially for a young quarterback.
"I'm not sure all fans understand the football IQ it takes to do what he does on the football field," Harris said. "To play the read option effectively, the way he does it, is just like Tom Brady reading the defense. Lamar's mind is sharp. He can read defenders very quickly. Even on his runs, it takes football IQ to know that because of the way a linebacker or defensive back is playing, there's going to be a lane to run through.
"We've created this idea, or stereotype about the quarterback position that if you're not throwing for yards, it doesn't count. A yard is a yard. If you run for 23, or throw for 23, your team is moving down the field. I think people need to respect that what Lamar does with his legs, or with his arm, takes football IQ."
Right now, Jackson's mind is focused on beating the Bills. He has accomplished so much during his first three NFL seasons, it's easy to forget that he's still younger than most of his teammates.
For Jackson, the best should be yet to come. For now, he's hoping that another season of growth lasts a few more weeks.
"Lamar's made up his mind to stay on the attack," Harris said. "They say it might snow in Buffalo and he's never played in it. But if it does, once he gets over the initial shock of playing in it, he'll realize that it's worse to play in the rain. He'll be fine. He's locked in."