Lamar Jackson is the most talked-about X factor heading into the Ravens' season opener. While starting quarterback Joe Flacco is coming off a strong preseason, there is daily speculation among media and fans regarding how much Jackson will play, and how much he will impact the offense as a potential situational quarterback.
Nobody can blame Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh for being coy Monday when asked about his plans for Jackson. The Buffalo Bills expect to see Ravens use Jackson in at least a few packages on Sunday. Not knowing how much they will see Jackson makes him tougher to prepare for.
"Well, we understand the threat he brings when he's on the field, so we spend a considerable amount of time in preparing for him,'' Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott said during a Wednesday conference call with reporters
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs sees enough in practice to know that when Jackson is on the field, he can cause headaches for any defense. Jackson is faster and more elusive than some running backs, with the added dimension of his throwing ability.
"It's difficult practicing against the kid," Suggs said. "Like I said, when you have an explosive, phenomenal talent like that, it's very fun if he's on your team – but it's not fun to prepare against."
Jackson is focused on being ready, no matter how many snaps he gets.
"I'm doing a lot of film study before Sunday gets here," Jackson said. "I feel like I'm going to be ready."
Ravens fans are certainly ready to see him.
Terrell Suggs Feeling Young at Heart, Looks Forward to 16th Season
Football never gets old for Suggs, as he continues to produce like a player much younger.
Often the loudest voice at practice, the 35-year-old Suggs acts more like a rookie than the most experienced starter on the Ravens' defense. Suggs believes his mental approach is one key to his longevity.
"That's been the attitude since Day 1," Suggs said. "I start to get shy or flattered when I hear the number like, 'Year 16? Oh [shoot]!' It is a pretty long time, but as long as you know you're still a kid at heart, still out there running, having fun, playing football. That number only means something to y'all – not really too much to me."
Whenever he retires, Suggs will leave a great career behind him. But nobody is rushing him out the door, not the way he continues to produce. He led the Ravens with 11 sacks last season, and Harbaugh never takes Suggs' presence for granted.
"As a coach, you like having great players – but even beyond that, you like having great players that come to work every day and set a tone for the whole team, for the whole building," Harbaugh said. "To me, that's a big part of what Terrell Suggs does. Nobody practices harder, nobody studies harder, nobody will know the Buffalo Bills' and every single opponent's offense better than he will. I mean around the whole league. This guy is smart, he knows the game, he studies the game and I'm glad he's on our side."
Ravens safety Eric Weddle is entering his 12th season, and like Suggs, he still comes to practice with a smile on his face. However, Weddle says Suggs is unique.
"He's a legend," Weddle said. "I cherish our relationship that we've built, and the utmost respect and admiration I have for a guy to play as long as he has. Just the love of the game, it really shows the great ones in this profession. They play a long time – it's because they really love the game, and they love being around their teammates."
Suggs had a returning role this season in the HBO show "Ballers," and the movie business could be a major part of his life after football. But Suggs still approaches football with a childlike passion, and sounds ready to have a typical Suggs season.
"I was born, and this is what I am," Suggs said. "I could play football at 4 a.m., I could go out and do it right now – it's just something I love to do. It's like a shooter shooting free throws, playing basketball or something like that. Football – it was never really difficult for me. It was everything to me."
Marshal Yanda Ready for First Start in Almost a Year
It has been a long wait for Ravens perennial Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who did not play a preseason snap. He has not played a regular-season game in almost a year, since fracturing his left ankle Sept. 17 against the Cleveland Browns.
However, Yanda is not questioning his readiness for Sunday's season opener. He is fresh and healthy entering his 12th NFL season, all with the Ravens.
"They definitely took care of me in the preseason," Yanda said. "There was a plan going in from the start. I feel really good and I'm excited. I missed all last year, so I'm really excited to play and get back out there and help the team. This is a fun game to play. I've always loved the game, so I'm excited to get back at it."
Yanda is depended on for his play, and for his leadership. If Yanda has a healthy season, it will a major lift for the offensive line.
Tavon Young's Play at Slot Corner Will Be Crucial for Defense
When the Ravens face a difficult slot receiver, Tavon Young is usually the cornerback that gets the assignment. After tearing his ACL last year and missing the 2017 season, Young's return is another reason to believe the Ravens' defense will improve. Slot cornerback has become one of the key position in today's NFL.
Young is not hiding his excitement about being back in the lineup.
"I'm back with my teammates, back with my coaches and ready to ball," Young said. "I get my butterflies driving to the stadium. But once I'm out there, everything goes away."
Asked if he was surprised by how good he has felt in practice, Young said, "Nah, I've got young legs."
Harbaugh said Young's versatility as a defender is a key to the Ravens' secondary.
"He fits very well to what the position is today," Harbaugh said. "It's not an easy position to play because you have a lot of responsibility in there in terms of recognizing plays. Then this RPO [run-pass option] thing has only made it even more complicated because that's usually the stressed player. If he plays pass, they run it; if he plays run, they pass it. So he has to be able to play both at the same time, along with all the route combinations he has to play in his own coverage. Then you have to matchup a really quick receiver that's really good at getting open, the [Julian] Edelman-type guys, in the slot. So I think it takes a great player to play in the slot on defense, and I am very hopeful that Tavon is on the way to becoming that guy. He certainly hasn't given us any reason to think he's not."