When is Jackson not a storyline? Pundits have opined all summer about his contract negotiations, with Jackson yet to sign a new long-term agreement entering the final year of his rookie deal. Speculation about Jackson's contract negotiations seems almost never-ending, and it remains to be seen if he will sign a new deal before the season-opener on Sept. 11.
However, Jackson looks determined, not distracted. He came to mandatory minicamp in June with a bulked-up upper body, and his passes had extra zip after weeks of working with throwing coach Adam Dedeaux. Jackson has clearly put in work, driven to bounce back after an ankle injury ended his 2021 season prematurely and the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time in his career. Jackson's game is constantly dissected, but he looks poised to give a strong rebuttal to critics.
"Lamar obviously handled his business when he was away from us, and he's worked tremendously hard," Quarterbacks Coach James Urban said at minicamp. "We don't worry about the outside distractions. He is a master of that. He is tremendously good at focusing on the task at hand."
The task for Jackson is to keep raising his game, as a former MVP who has the talent to lead the Ravens to a special year. He may not play at all during the preseason, so Jackson will use training camp to sharpen skills, looking to be razor-sharp by Week 1.
Left Guard Competition
The best training camp competition for a starting spot will be at left guard. It's the one offensive line position that looks undetermined.
Tyre Phillips, Ben Cleveland, Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari all have a chance to start. Phillips may be the most athletic, Cleveland is the biggest, Mekari is the most versatile, and Powers made the most starts at guard (19) over the past two seasons. It's an open competition and padded practices and preseason performances will be extremely important. Will someone clearly win the job, or will the Ravens enter Week 1 still looking for somebody to clearly emerge?
The Wide Receivers
Baltimore's young wide receivers are acutely aware that they enter training camp under the microscope.
The Ravens traded former No. 1 wide receiver and top deep threat Marquise Brown on the opening night of the draft, leaving Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche II and Tylan Wallace as the new leaders of the position. None have played more than two NFL seasons, and this is their opportunity to seize the moment.
"We embrace it," said Bateman, a first-round pick in 2021 who put together a solid rookie season (46 catches, 515 yards, 1 touchdown) after missing the first five games following groin surgery. "It's a challenge, but we're learning from Lamar. We don't really care anymore."
There is a chance the Ravens could sign a veteran wide receiver before Week 1. But every wide receiver begins training camp with an opportunity to seize a role as a primary target for Jackson.
All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, cornerback Marcus Peters, running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, and safety Ar'Darius Washington will begin training camp on PUP. Any of those players can be activated from the PUP list at any time during training camp.
It's hard to overstate how important it is for the Ravens to be much healthier in 2022 than they were last season. Stanley is arguably the best left tackle in football. Peters is one of the NFL's best corners, a takeaway artist and competitive spirit who makes the entire secondary more dynamic and feisty. Bowser was the team's sack leader in 2021 and had his best season. Dobbins and Edwards are the team's top running backs, a dynamic one-two punch expected to spearhead a potent rushing attack.
The Ravens will be cautious with all their injured players, but the earlier they return to the field, the better their chances of being ready for Week 1.
Offensive Line Improvement
Solidifying the offensive line was a top offseason priority and the Ravens addressed it by signing right tackle Morgan Moses and drafting Tyler Linderbaum, the presumed starting center. The preparation to get Linderbaum ready for Week 1 will be ramped up during camp. Moses will be expected to provide a steady veteran presence, and it will be interesting to see if tackle Ja'Wuan James is ready to compete for snaps after missing last season with an Achilles injury.
The health of Stanley, who played just one game last season, is crucial to the offense. The Ravens need to protect Jackson much better than last season when he was sacked a career-high 38 times in 12 games. They also need to run the ball more effectively, which would put less pressure on their passing game. The hope is that Stanley will return 100 percent and that a solid starter will emerge at left guard. If that happens, the Ravens could have one of the NFL's best offensive lines and return to being a physical offensive team that can impose its will on defenses.
The Pass Rush
The return of Justin Houston, who recently re-signed, was a positive development, but the pass rush is a work in progress entering camp. Bowser's health status is uncertain, and second-round pick David Ojabo, who tore his Achilles at his Pro Day in April, won't be ready for the start of the season. Second-year outside linebacker Odafe Oweh will be counted on heavily after producing five sacks as a rookie. The Ravens' pass rush could improve with better pass coverage and more pressure from defensive linemen Calais Campbell, Justin Madubuike, Michael Pierce, Broderick Washington and rookie Travis Jones. However, whether the Ravens have found a way to get more pressure on quarterbacks remains a question that will be asked.
Kyle Hamilton's Role
Hamilton was regarded as the best safety in the draft, a versatile player who can line up in a variety of spots to match up with wide receivers and tight ends while also attacking the run. But will the 14th overall pick immediately establish himself as someone who's too good to take off the field as a rookie? The addition of Hamilton and free agent Marcus Williams to join veteran safety Chuck Clark gives new Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald plenty of options and interesting decisions. Having an abundance of talent at safety gives Baltimore a chance to dramatically improve a pass defense that ranked last in the NFL last season, and Hamilton could be a big part of that equation.