Lamar Jackson Can Be the Most Dangerous Dual-Threat Quarterback the NFL Has Seen
We're only 10 days away from the start of training camp, and all eyes fall on Lamar Jackson and his development heading into his second year.
Pundits remain skeptical after watching Jackson for eight games under center last season, but NFL Network's Nate Burleson remains confident in the young quarterback.
The NFL Network analyst and co-host of "Good Morning Football" dove into the film and explained how Jackson can be one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks the NFL has seen.
"[H]e can do it all," Burleson said. "Of course, he's not a perfect quarterback; he was just a rookie last year that was thrown into the fire. But guess what? He started to heat up a little bit. The question is, how much of the offense will [the Ravens] allow this man to run?
"We know that he can use his legs, but if they incorporate the intelligence and a little of the intricacies within that offense and make it difficult for defenses to predict what he's going to do, that right there is going to be tough to stop."
The Ravens ran a run-first offensive attack with Jackson during the second half of the 2018 season. They finished as the second-leading rushing team, only behind the Seattle Seahawks, but skeptics have continually pointed to the 23-17 wild-card loss the Los Angeles Chargers as the formula to crack Jackson and the offense.
The Chargers often used four defensive linemen and seven defensive backs to counter the Ravens' run-heavy offense, and it saw success. There were other reasons why the Ravens struggled early too. But Burleson isn't necessarily buying that it's the formula for opposing defenses moving forward.
Burleson noted that the Ravens need to feature more setup plays, to bait defenses into loading the box, only to beat them over the top through the passing game.
"Towards the end of the game, once there was six, seven, eight guys in the box, Jackson was chopping [those] guys up," Burleson said. "So I'm saying utilize his arm. … Let the man throw the ball and let the legs be the bonus to his skillset."
Jackson saw success against the Chargers in the team's 22-10 win in Week 16. He threw for a career-high 204 yards and hit tight end Mark Andrews in stride for a 68-yard touchdown, one of Jackson's best throws of the season.
"The goal, of course, is to make defenses account for multiple possibilities after the ball is snapped, so Baltimore forcing them to defend the QB as a runner sets up all sorts of possibilities in the RPO," ForTheWin's Henry McKenna wrote. "In reality, the Ravens are likely working their way toward some version of a modern offense but will need time to get there."
Yahoo! Sports' Frank Schwab believes run-first offenses can be "almost impossible to stop" with a quarterback like Jackson, but success will ultimately be defined by how he develops in the pocket.
With that comes patience, just like any other young quarterback.
"People are quick to criticize Jackson's passing, but he was a rookie who was put into the starting lineup at midseason," Schwab wrote. "... Most second-year quarterbacks are given the patience to develop and improve as a passer, and Jackson should be too. If he makes a big leap — many smart draft experts thought he would function just fine as a passer coming out of Louisville — the Ravens' offense will be really good. The Ravens have a well-established floor, and another division title should be a clear goal. If Jackson really takes a huge second-year leap, a long playoff run can happen too."
Wink Martindale Among Next Wave of Coaching Hires?
Following the Arizona Cardinals' hiring of Kliff Kingsbury and the influx of young, offensive-minded head coaches this offseason, Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr looked at the next wave of coaches who could dominate the hiring cycle.
Among the names to watch: Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale.
Orr categorized Martindale as an "overlooked lifer," a category "I'm stunned hasn't exploded in recent years since, in terms of NFL coaches, it may be the league's greatest untapped resource," Orr said.
Former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees was also named as an assistant to watch.
Classified as a player's coach, Martindale spent six seasons as the linebackers coach in Baltimore before taking over as defensive coordinator in 2018. He's earned glowing reviews from players, past and present.
"It's always been about 'we' and never about him," former Ravens safety Eric Weddle said about Martindale. "It was never about what he's done and his opportunity. It's always about the players. He believes in us and loves us -- like, genuinely loves us."
As the NFL becomes a copycat league, offensive-minded teams are leaning towards hiring coaches with that experience. But in his first season as defensive coordinator, the Ravens finished as the No. 1-ranked defense, and Martindale reportedly drew head coaching interest this offseason as eight jobs became open.
Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport ranked the Ravens' No. 6 in his NFL coaching staff power rankings, and Martindale's success played a factor.
"Martindale heads into his second season as defensive coordinator after six years of coaching the linebackers, further cementing the consistency and continuity that has marked Harbaugh's tenure," Davenport wrote.
Martindale has never been a head coach at the collegiate or professional level, but another strong season following the losses of key defensive pieces would strengthen his resume.
Head Coach John Harbaugh hasn't stopped his staff from exploring coaching opportunities.
"We give them every opportunity to look at that, specifically a head coaching job," Harbaugh said. "That would be something we would encourage."
Martindale could join a lineage of former Ravens' defensive coordinators who have gone on to become NFL head coaches (Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Chuck Pagano, and Rex Ryan).
Eric Weddle Praises Rams' Cornerbacks, But Don't Buy Into the Shade
During the dead period of the NFL offseason, almost anything can be construed into a headline.
Just ask safety Eric Weddle, now with the Rams, who made headlines this week when he praised teammates Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.
"Those two are the best I've ever played with in my career of guys that play with vision, play the ball, understand routes, trust a safety that is going to alert them and put them in a position to make plays knowing that I have their backs," Weddle said. "I'm extremely excited to get on the field with them, give 'em those live reps, live-game atmosphere and take this secondary to the next level."
Ravens' fans seemed to take exception to Weddle's comments.
Here's why you shouldn't buy into that narrative. Weddle was a class act in three seasons with the Ravens and repeatedly said he loved his time in Baltimore.
Not to mention, this is the same player who told SI's Andy Benoit he wouldn't give Rams Head Coach Sean McVay any insight on the Ravens' defense before the Week 12 Monday Night Football matchup this season.
Weddle is a veteran player talking about two talented cornerbacks – it's as simple as that.
Trace McSorley, Cyrus Jones Take Part in Football Camps
The offseason is a busy time for players in their communities, and a pair of Ravens were involved in football camps over the weekend.
Rookie quarterback Trace McSorley spent some time this weekend at Quantico Marine Base as a guest football coach for children of active-duty military, reservists, retirees, and Department of Defense civilians.
"It's a lot of fun being out here with these kids," McSorley told NBC Sports Washington. "It's really cool to see all of these kids enjoying it and being out here for the love of the game."
Meanwhile, cornerback/return specialist Cyrus Jones hosted an inaugural football camp in partnership with "The Cy Jones Foundation," aimed to help Baltimore City children and families. Jones missed all of OTAs and minicamp with an unspecified medical issue, so it's good to see him on the field.
● Bleacher Report's Maurice Moton named linebacker Chris Board as the Ravens' biggest sleeper heading into training camp.
● NFL Network's Bucky Brooks had some words after Matthew Judon said the Ravens' defense could be "legendary."
"If Judon wants the football world to talk about the Ravens' defense as a "legendary" unit, he is going to need to spearhead the charge with a handful of young rushers and playmakers following his lead," Brooks said. "Otherwise, he's just another offseason talker writing checks that he and his teammates won't be able to cash."