In 2016, Trace McSorley was in the running with Lamar Jackson for the Heisman Trophy. Three years later, McSorley is the backup to Jackson’s backup and in a somewhat similar situation to Jackson’s rookie season.
Just like Jackson, McSorley has dealt with people suggesting that he would be better off switching from quarterback to another position because of his unique style of play. Just like Jackson, McSorley is adamant that he’s a quarterback.
At the same time, the rookie knows Jackson is the starter and he’s No. 3 on the depth chart, so he’s more than willing to do whatever he can to contribute. Because of McSorley’s unique talents (his combination of throwing ability, speed and just general football know-how), he can be of use immediately.
“My perspective is that I am a quarterback and that’s what I think I’ll be able to do long-term,” McSorley said on “The Lounge” podcast this week.
“But I also want to be able to help this team out as much as I can. It’s exciting to have some opportunities, to be able to get on the field on special teams and make some plays and try and be a difference-maker.”
Unlike Jackson, who was a first-round pick that everyone knew would be a starter sooner than later, McSorley is a sixth-round pick who may have a longer road to becoming a starter. But that doesn’t mean he’ll just be holding a clipboard as he develops.
Just look at what Taysom Hill did for the New Orleans Saints last year, when he became a special teams dynamo and offensive Swiss-Army knife who would occasionally replace future Hall of Famer Drew Brees to provide a curveball for opponents.
Hill played in 16 games, made four starts, threw for 64 yards and ran for 196 yards and two touchdowns. On special teams, he returned 14 kicks and one punt, made six special teams tackles and blocked a punt.
So is McSorley the next Hill?
“I think that’s something that I can do,” McSorley said. “It’s something that coaches are looking to explore a little bit if I can do that kind of stuff. I’m willing to do whatever. If they want me out there blocking punts, that would be pretty cool too. I think that’s something that we’re looking at and something I’m excited about.”
One of the more interesting possible jobs would be returning punts, something coaches have had McSorley doing at the start of each practice. It started when, at the end of the Local Pro Day workout at the Under Armour Performance Center, coaches asked McSorley if he was willing to catch some punts. He was down, and they’ve worked on it ever since.
It would be a leap to say McSorley is going to be the Ravens’ Week 1 punt returner, but it’s an experiment that will likely continue into training camp. McSorley was the fastest quarterback at the Combine (4.57 second 40-yard dash) and has superb vision. He ran for 1,654 yards and 30 touchdowns in his three seasons as a starter at Penn State.
“It’s been fun,” McSorley said. “It’s something that's a new challenge for me, something that I hadn't really ever done. So it's just something interesting to be able to come in and learn and try and prove myself in a different way that I can be able to get on the field and make an impact.
"It's had its ups and downs, obviously the first couple times doing it, but it's going well.”
After he’s done working with special teams, McSorley flips the switch into quarterback mode. He looked good throwing the ball at Ravens OTAs and minicamp, showing he has plenty of talent in that realm as well. He’s the perfect fit for Baltimore’s reimagined offense centered around the quarterback’s threat to run.
McSorley said the most difficult part of his transition to the NFL so far has been learning the Ravens’ offensive terminology. But it’s not just learning the offense (at the game’s hardest position) but multiple other positions and special teams as well.
“I approach it as, wherever I’m at, just being 100 percent there,” McSorley said. “So when I’m in special teams meetings or we’re on the field doing special teams stuff, I’m all in there and I’m completely focused there and competing with the guys on special teams. When I get over to quarterback and the offense, I’m competing with those guys, with Lamar, RGIII, those guys to be the best quarterback that I can be.
“As a quarterback, I think you have to be a little bit stubborn in the fact that you’ve got to wholeheartedly believe that that’s what you can do. For me and Lamar, I think it’s the same thing. Talking about him last year and how he approached it, he wanted to get on the field any way he could and make an impact and help the team. But I think his mindset in the back of his head was that he was going to be the starting quarterback. I think you have to have a little bit of that.”