Jackson's Progress as Passer is Main Focus of Attention
It's OTA time in the NFL, and that means media members are identifying what the key questions are for teams.
For the Ravens, who began Organized Team Activities (OTAs) yesterday and will continue the sessions today and Thursday (the latter will be open to the media), it all starts with Lamar Jackson, specifically how much the second-year quarterback has progressed as a passer.
"The Ravens have stressed they are rebuilding their offense 'from the ground up,'" PressBox’s Bo Smolka wrote, "and while Jackson and the running game figure to once again be a central component in new coordinator Greg Roman's offense, nothing will determine the short-term future of the franchise more than Jackson's evolution as a passer."
Jackson, who said he needed to improve on his mechanics, worked with quarterbacks coach Joshua Harris and receivers Jordan Lasley and Jaylen Smith during the offseason.
"OTAs will offer a glimpse at the strides he's made," WNST’s Luke Jones wrote. "Team-produced highlight videos and public comments from coaches and teammates will be all positive, of course, but media will be permitted to watch three OTA workouts ahead of Baltimore's mandatory three-day minicamp in mid-June.
"That's not to say reporters will — or should — overreact to every rep, but more consistency is needed on a throw-to-throw basis, especially on out-breaking routes. How Jackson throws in spring practices will only tell so much, but it's more than we know now after an offseason full of speculation, debate, and, in some cases, mindless hot takes about the quarterback's abilities."
Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens noted that the Ravens have set Jackson up for success by adding a number of skill position players this offseason.
"Jackson has weapons all around him now and a strong arm to take advantage of them," Stevens wrote. "But if he continues to rush his mechanics on the field at a time when no one is going to be hitting him, it'll mean he has a lot more work to do. If Jackson shows great improvement, it's a step in the right direction and a reason for fans to be excited this year."
Barstool Sports' Big Cat also emphasized how important Jackson's development as a passer is to the Ravens' 2019 season.
"The offseason can't be graded until we find out what Lamar Jackson has done to progress as a passer in the NFL," Big Cat told Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. "That's it. You can bring everyone you want in there, but if Lamar Jackson can't at least keep defenses honest … Lamar Jackson's growth is everything."
How the wide receivers look at OTAs also will be something to keep an eye on.
Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta said at the Ravens' pre-draft press conference last month that the team needed to "just take some at-bats and swing" in regard to drafting receivers. Even though DeCosta was speaking at what has become known as the "Liars' Luncheon," he wasn't fibbing. Two of the Ravens' first three draft picks were wide receivers: Marquise Brown in the first round and Miles Boykin in the third.
"The Ravens went from not having enough wide receivers on the roster to it being one of the more interesting battles this offseason," Stevens wrote." Though Marquise Brown is expected to miss OTAs following Lisfranc surgery on his foot and Miles Boykin has been dealing with a hamstring injury, there will still be plenty of talent on the field.
"Seth Roberts and Michael Floyd are likely competing for one roster spot. Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott have to step up in their second year. Which UDFA begins to make a case for a roster spot here? Is Chris Moore getting reps with the first-team offense? With 13 wide receivers currently on the roster and likely only six or seven spots available, this is a battle that is wide open right now."
Smolka noted that the Ravens have brought in an "intriguing crop of undrafted rookies" that includes Smith – Jackson's former teammate at Louisville – and Joe Horn Jr. The influx of rookies and veterans makes OTAs especially important for Scott and Lasley.
"It's easy to group Scott and Lasley together," Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "Both were mid-round picks in 2018 who failed to get on the field as rookies, and … neither Scott nor Lasley can expect a clear path onto the regular-season roster. A few big plays in practice could help either receiver inch ahead in a competition; a few drops could send them into a deep hole before training camp begins."
Praise for Greg Roman's Promotion to Offensive Coordinator
ESPN asked NFL coaches and scouts what each team's best offseason move was, and the choice for the Ravens was the promotion of Greg Roman to offensive coordinator in January.
"I think back to what Roman] did at San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick and I think that offense will be dynamic in the run game with quarterback-designed runs, zone reads, motions and shifts[," an AFC defensive coach said.
"[Baltimore] will just be multiple and a pain in the ass to defend. Not going to scare you throwing, but will run the ball well, limiting opponent possessions, and play great defense and special teams."
Griffin, Jaylen Smith Are Under-the-Radar Acquisitions
While big-name free agents and high draft picks deservedly get the biggest headlines during the offseason, less splashy free agents and undrafted rookies also could play key roles in a team's success.
SB Nation's Christian D’Andrea chose one under-the-radar offseason move that he loves for every team, and he went with the re-signing of Robert Griffin III for the Ravens.
"Lamar Jackson averaged 17 carries per start as a rookie, so making sure the Ravens have a veteran backup was a priority this spring," D'Andrea wrote. "Who better than the man who lived the cautionary tale of what taking unnecessary abuse can do to a budding young mobile quarterback? RGIII has already served as a valuable mentor for Jackson, and now he'll serve the same role for the next two years while making less than one-ninth what Joe Flacco will."
Before free agency began, DeCosta stressed the importance of the backup quarterback position.
"I think that position is often overlooked, unless you need that guy, and then he becomes critical," DeCosta said. "We want to make sure we have a good backup in place regardless of Lamar Jackson being quarterback or somebody else being the quarterback. Having two quarterbacks is essential in the NFL.
"There's no faster way to ruin your season than to get your starting quarterback hurt and not having an effective backup quarterback. Your season is basically over at that point. We never want to be in that position again."
As for undrafted rookies who could make an impact for the Ravens, Bleacher Report’s Christopher Knox likes Smith.
"Ravens fans ought to be hyped for undrafted wideout Jaylen Smith," Knox wrote. "In addition to being a familiar face for Jackson, Smith has the physical tools to develop into a quality NFL wideout. At 6-foot-2, the 219-pounder racked up 550 yards in 2018, even without Jackson throwing him the ball."
Ravens Had Two of the Top 20 Moves This Offseason
Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport ranked the 25 best moves of the offseason. The Ravens' signings of running back Mark Ingram and safety Earl Thomas came in at Nos. 16 and 20, respectively.
"Ingram also averaged a healthy 4.7 yards a carry last year, and the Ravens didn't break the bank to add him—Ingram's deal includes just $6.5 million in guarantees," Davenport wrote. "A playoff team adding a two-time Pro Bowl tailback on a reasonable contract is an easy signing to like.
"The Ravens badly needed to add an impact player defensively to stop the bleeding. And in that respect, Earl Thomas could be a game-saver in Baltimore. … When he's healthy, Thomas is arguably the best safety of his generation—a player that Baltimore can build around on defense."