Perhaps the biggest question about first-round quarterback Lamar Jackson is his ability to transfer his Heisman Trophy-winning college style to the NFL.
Even Head Coach John Harbaugh said Saturday that until a rookie steps onto the NFL practice field, it’s all imagination about what a prospect could be.
Well, after two high-tempo and challenging minicamp practices, Harbaugh is pleased with his rookie quarterback. Jackson is off to a good start in Baltimore.
“The thing that I was really impressed with was I thought he was accurate,” Harbaugh said.
“You read the reports and stuff like that, but he’s a naturally talented thrower; he has natural arm talent. That’s something that I think people were questioning. So to see him out here throwing the ball naturally, very accurately, I thought was a big plus.”
Jackson completed several deep passes to his tight ends down the seam. He seems to have an early connection with fifth-round wide receiver Jordan Lasley, as the two moved the chains on a few occasions during 11-on-11 drills.
Jackson didn’t show as big of an arm as quarterback Joe Flacco, but the rookie put a nice touch and placement on many of his throws and zipped a tight touchdown pass (to Lasley) while in a red-zone drill. When he needs to, he can let it rip.
The biggest difference between Jackson and Flacco is Jackson’s obvious explosiveness as a runner, which he put on display many times throughout Saturday’s practice (without busting out his signature juke moves yet).
“As soon as we get in pads, you’ll see [those],” Jackson said with a laugh.
Harbaugh made it clear that the Ravens are working on using those talents during Jackson’s rookie season, saying Baltimore is crafting plays in the “laboratory.”
“We ran a lot of stuff out here today you guys probably saw,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to always try to get our players making plays for us, and Lamar is a guy that can help us win games.”
Before Jackson can help Baltimore win as the team’s starting quarterback, he has a lot more developing to do. Coaches said learning how to play quarterback the Ravens’ way would be his first task.
Jackson’s learning a different offense, new verbiage, getting teammates lined up in the right spot and managing the offense overall. There seemed to be few hiccups Saturday, and Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg peeked his head inside huddles to make sure things were running smoothly.
Harbaugh said Jackson is at times “coloring inside the lines” in terms of throwing with anticipation because he’s learning the plays and concepts, but he’s picking it up very quickly.
“As good as any rookie we’ve had that way,” Harbaugh said. “He’s very smart; he studies, very sharp, has a nice presence on the field. I think we all feel that he handled himself very well that way.”
One of the biggest changes so far has been taking more snaps from under center. Jackson often worked out of the shotgun at Louisville, which helped with his running ability. The Ravens had him dropping back to work on his footwork and balance.
“I’ve got to work on that a lot more,” Jackson said. “The NFL is totally different from college. It’s a lot faster. You’ve got to work as a unit. It’s fun out here. I’m having fun.”
While Jackson said the pros is faster, he later added, “I can go at an NFL pace right away.”
Jackson said learning the Ravens’ offensive system has been fun. Playing the game is clearly enjoyable to him as well, and by all accounts, his teammates have enjoyed him too.
On Friday, players said Jackson is funny and a character. During Saturday’s practice, Lasley cheered him on from the sideline when he darted up the middle, blazing past linemen and linebackers for a first-down run.
“All of that is A, A-plus,” Harbaugh said. “He has great demeanor. He has a great face, attitude is really good, smart, studies real hard, locker room stuff. I think it’s all good.”