While all the attention has been on Lamar Jackson’s improved passing this summer, another critical facet of his game that needed attention was his ball-handling.
Despite not becoming the Ravens’ starter until midseason, Jackson led the NFL with 12 fumbles last year, then put it on the ground three more times in the Ravens’ wild-card playoff loss. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott came in second with six fumbles.
As training camp comes to an end, Jackson expressed confidence that he’s cleaned that up. He joked that he got on the JUGGS machine catching passes, but Jackson actually did work with Running Backs Coach Matt Weiss and the tailbacks on practicing proper ball security.
“That’s not a concern. My concern is on winning,” Jackson said. “I got it fixed. Got to wait till the regular season to see what goes on.”
Head Coach John Harbaugh made improving ball security a major emphasis this offseason, especially between the center and Jackson, and Jackson and his running backs. It’s critical in a read-option offense with so many split-second decisions and deception.
Part of the problem last year was that the Ravens changed offensive styles midway through the year when Jackson was thrust into action. They hadn’t practiced that much ball movement. After working on it all summer, Harbaugh said the Ravens are “way ahead of the curve.”
“I think it’s been way better. Just watching the practices, you probably saw it,” Harbaugh said. “Lamar makes very few mistakes with ball handling right now. The snaps have been much more accurate than they have in the past, so that starts everything off on the right foot. You haven’t seen a lot of the more complicated ball-handling plays, but the ones we have run have been well done.”
Justin Tucker: 'I Haven't Hit My Prime Yet'
It seems crazy to think about goofy Justin Tucker as being one of the Ravens’ “gray beards,” as he called himself Tuesday. But as Tucker enters his eighth season, only eight Ravens players have been in the NFL longer.
Tucker will turn 30 on Nov. 21, which prompted a reporter to ask whether he feels any differently physically.
“I haven’t even hit my prime yet. I’ll leave it at that,” Tucker said with confidence.
Tucker, who signed a four-year contract extension this offseason, is the NFL’s most accurate kicker of all-time at 90.1 percent, and it’s not all that close.
He’s connected on 237 of his 263 career field-goal attempts. Tucker would have to miss his next eight field goals (and no other kickers attempt any) to fall from the top spot behind the 49ers’ Robbie Gould.
Tucker’s career-best field-goal percentage was in 2016 at 97.4 percent. He was at 91.9 percent in 2017 and 89.7 percent last season. Blocks have also hampered those numbers.
There’s certainly evidence that Tucker can kick at a very high level for a lot longer.
“[Adam] Vinatieri, 46, ain’t even hit his prime yet,” Tucker said. “The guy’s incredible. He’s one of my heroes in sports, in football. Watching guys like him, Phil Dawson, our own Matt Stover, Robbie Gould … seeing what those guys do, what they do, their age notwithstanding, it’s really incredible to watch.”
At this point of his career, Tucker said he doesn’t set season-long goals like hitting a certain field-goal percentage or reaching the Pro Bowl (he’s shockingly only gone twice). He doesn’t do too much experimenting in training camp practice, either.
“I think we have more of a, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it’ kind of situation going on here,” Tucker said.
Harbaugh Likes More Joint Practices, Fewer Preseason Games
The Ravens have completed two different joint practice sessions – one with the Jaguars and one with the Eagles – and came away better for it both times.
Harbaugh said Tuesday that he likes joint practices so much that he’d be in favor of doing more of them and fewer preseason games.
Teams’ starters get more reps against each other in practices than games. The Ravens may not face a starting quarterback in the preseason at all as teams are scared of players getting hurt. Meanwhile, there’s league-wide discussion of limiting the preseason to just two games.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to that at all,” Harbaugh said. “I’m on record. I don’t know how many of these preseason games we really need to play. But I also understand that there’s a lot to the bargaining process, so we’ll see what happens.”
Nearby teams used to get together for one-day scrimmages, but the Ravens were among the first teams to begin multi-day joint practices leading into preseason games. The Ravens hosted John’s brother, Jim, and the San Francisco 49ers in 2014 and have done joint practices nearly every year since.
“I think the joint practices are really good, I do,” Harbaugh said. “We had two great days. Two teams that are very like-minded in what we wanted to get out of it. Very physical, very hot, and no issues really. You might have a little shoving match or talking going on here, but it’s all in good fun. I just felt like we got a lot of work done.”