An In-Depth Look at How Lamar Jackson Became a Raven
By now you've surely read, watched and listened to an inordinate amount of analysis and opinions from national and local media regarding Lamar Jackson's viability as a starting quarterback in the NFL. The scrutiny of Jackson undoubtedly will ramp up again with training camp beginning today for the Ravens.
An excellent piece by The Athletic's Dan Pompei delves significantly deeper into Jackson's story, as Pompei takes readers behind the scenes to reveal how Jackson became a Raven and provide insight into Jackson's development as a professional player as well as who he is as a person.
Pompei's feature begins with Ravens Midwest scout Dwuane Jones attending a Louisville game in 2017. He was there to take a look at a few of the Cardinals' players, none of whom were named Lamar Jackson. The Ravens weren't focused on drafting a quarterback, let alone one who "isn't a traditional passer" and "plays in an unconventional system by NFL standards."
However, after watching Jackson's performance in Louisville's victory over Purdue that night, Jones was highly intrigued by the junior.
"He threw the ball on a rope for a touchdown," Jones said. "He was running all around Purdue's defenders. He was as good as the defensive coordinator had said. I didn't even plan on watching him, but he stole the show. I could barely remember how the other guys played."
Jones began to keep an eye on Jackson and learn more about him from people who knew him well, such as Lyndon Clemons, the assistant principal at the high school Jackson attended in Florida. Clemons relayed a story about Jackson crying after losing a playoff game, not for himself, but "because he thought if he played better and the team advanced, a teammate who was going to play Division II football might have had a chance to get a Division I opportunity."
"When I heard that, I thought, 'That's the type of athlete who can be a great leader,'" Jones said. "He possesses all three qualities—humility, hunger and smarts."
Jones was all in on Jackson, and he made it known at the Ravens' initial draft meetings.
"This guy has made plays," Jones said. "He elevated a program on his shoulders. He brought people up around him. He's explosive, he's a great kid. I want the kid. I want Lamar. I think he'll be a good Raven."
Eventually, all of the Ravens' decision makers shared the same opinion of Jackson. About two weeks before the draft, Head Coach John Harbaugh stands up and vouches that he'll make Jackson's unique style work in Baltimore.
"If we draft Lamar, I'm good with that," Harbaugh tells the room. "We can build an offense around him. We'll play great special teams, great defense and be a ball control offense. We'll build a big, physical offensive line. We'll get physical running backs. We'll block on the perimeter. We'll run all the elements of the college offense. We'll do something different."
The Ravens had Jackson rated among their top 25 players, but navigated around the board to get him at No. 32.
Despite being a threat to well-liked veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, Jackson quickly won over his new teammates and others in the organization.
"In one of their first encounters, Jackson tells Flacco, 'You are the GOAT. You won a Super Bowl MVP. Until I do that, you are the GOAT,'" Pompei wrote.
"He interacts with the guys cleaning up the towels off the floor to Mr. Ozzie [Newsome] as he calls him, with equal respect," Ravens Quarterbacks Coach James Urban said. "He's really cool that way."
Fast-forward to the Ravens' loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in the first-round of the playoffs last January. With the Jackson and the Ravens struggling to get anything going on offense and the fans at M&T Bank Stadium growing restless, Harbaugh saw the season slipping away and considered turning to Flacco in the second half.
Harbaugh asked then-Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and then-Assistant Head Coach/Tight Ends Coach Greg Roman which quarterback he should go with, and both said Jackson.
"Then, he asks Flacco the same question," Pompei wrote. "'Lamar,' Flacco responds. 'He has the best chance.' Finally, he asks Jackson. 'Yeah,' he says. 'Keep me in there.'" Jackson went on to thrown two touchdown passes late in the game to pull the Ravens within six points."
Now that the offense is being built around Jackson, "The challenge for his coaches is to get Jackson to follow their instructions precisely, but not lose touch with his most precious gift — his ability to create off schedule," Pompei wrote. "It's combining the ability to play sheet music with the instinct to play jazz."
"I feel I'm not great at anything right now," Jackson said. "I'm still learning, but I'm very confident in what I bring to the team. I got my guys who will help me with the journey. I still have to improve on many things, but my mind is set on winning the championship. That's what I'm here for."
Is Earl Thomas Flying Under the Radar?
Whether or not Earl Thomas signing with the Ravens this offseason has received enough fanfare is debatable, but the veteran safety said he's fine with it if it's been underplayed.
"That's how I like it," Thomas said in a sit-down interview with ESPN's Josina Anderson. "Let me sleep under the radar and just surprise everybody."
Speaking of surprises, Thomas told Anderson that he's been caught off guard at times in the meeting room.
"I'm definitely not comfortable in the meetings, especially when they put me on the spot. I'm like, 'Bro, somebody tell me. I don't know,'" he said with a laugh. "It's just the pressure so I can stay in my playbook. So they'll call me out. Most of the time I don't know. … I like to get on the field. Let me walk through it. Let me see it a couple of times, let me rep it out, and then I'll get it. … They'll keep me on my toes."
During mandatory minicamp last month, Thomas commented on the complexity of the Ravens' defense compared to what he was used to with the Seattle Seahawks.
"We were just playing Cover-3 all the time [in Seattle]," he said. "Now, we're making calls on the fly. That's the biggest adjustment for me. … But I know it's going to pay off, because we're going to make it very hard on quarterbacks."
Thomas, by the way, was named the No. 2 safety in the league by Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling.
The six-time Pro Bowl selection, who had his 2018 season end after suffering a broken leg in Week 4, also was named as one of the top five candidates for Comeback Player of the Year by Sports Illustrated's Damichael Cole, and he was No. 6 on NFL.com's Gil Brandt's list of the top free agent signings of 2019.
Ravens a Possible Suitor for Mike Daniels?
As soon as the news broke that Pro Bowl defensive lineman Mike Daniels had been released by the Green Bay Packers, the speculation began as to where the veteran would land.
NFL Network's Mike Garofolo reported that as many as seven teams have expressed interest in signing Daniels. Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski listed the Ravens as one of six teams who would be a good fit for him.
"The Baltimore Ravens were hot and heavy after Gerald McCoy when the six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle became available, so it stands to reason they will pursue Daniels," Sobleski wrote. "The Ravens could use more interior pass-rush punch. [Brandon] Williams and [Michael] Pierce are larger, less-explosive options. Daniels is an upfield penetrator capable of regularly collapsing pockets on passing downs."
- NFL.com's Adam Schein named the Ravens one of the bubble teams this season.