Lamar Jackson hasn't played this preseason, and the Ravens must decide if they want to change that on Saturday night.
The Ravens' preseason finale against Washington will be Jackson's last chance for live game action prior to the Sept. 13 regular-season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Ravens only have two quarterbacks available, Jackson and backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, with Trace McSorley recovering from a back injury. However, Huntley played all but the final series against the Carolina Panthers last week, so there's no guarantee Jackson will play.
The coaching staff is keeping its Saturday plans for Jackson and other starters close to the vest. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman believes that giving starters preseason a few preseason reps can be valuable, but every player must be evaluated individually.
"Every situation's different," Roman said. "You have to really try not to make decisions based on cliches. You've got to really dive down into each person individually and put it on the scales. Playing live football, that's where it's at. If we can get some of that done, I think it will be a real benefit."
Here are some factors the Ravens will consider when deciding whether or not to play Jackson:
The wide receivers are banged up
James Proche II returned to practice Wednesday, but Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman, Miles Boykin and Deon Cain were still out. One of the main reasons to play Jackson would be to give him some live reps with his top receivers. But many of those receivers are out, so even if Jackson plays, building more game chemistry with his top receivers will have to wait.
"We've got to get these guys back out there," Roman said of the receivers. "It's very important that we start building some real-time chemistry and timing. The situation is the situation. You've got to adapt and adjust and do the best that you can and evolve as you go. The sooner we can get them out there 100 percent, the better so we can get some real quality work, timing and chemistry."
Ronnie Stanley's status may impact Jackson's
Stanley completed his first full practice since returning from ankle surgery on Tuesday, but Baltimore's All-Pro left tackle did not practice Wednesday. Stanley looks on target to return for Week 1, but he may not play Saturday.
Stanley has looked good every day that he has practiced, including last week when he took some reps against the Panthers in Thursday's joint practice. If Stanley doesn't play, the Ravens may decide it's not best to put Jackson on the field until Stanley is protecting his blind side.
Jackson already looks sharp
This is different than 2018, when Jackson played a lot in the preseason as a rookie. Or 2019, when Jackson also played in the preseason, entering his first full season as a starter.
The 2021 version of Jackson is more experienced and more in command of the offense. Since missing the first 10 days of training camp (Reserve/COVID-19), Jackson has returned focused and throwing the football more consistently than at any point in his career. He worked against another team last week when he participated in both joint practices with the Carolina Panthers.
"He's really been working hard this season to improve in a lot of areas," Roman said. "He's definitely worked on some mechanical things. Is the ball spinning tighter? I think it is. I think you see some real empirical evidence that the work is paying off."
Nothing can exactly replicate NFL game speed, so giving Jackson some reps against Washington for even a series or two could be beneficial. However, the Ravens aren't going to unveil the offense they plan to run during the regular season. They've already started the process of getting ready for Week 1, and that will continue during practice whether Jackson plays Saturday or not.
"We're adding new stuff, kind of putting some other stuff to the side, and really moving forward," Roman said. "It's a transitional period for us. At the same time, you're building the team, seeing who's going to be out there. You're trying get better fundamentally at all times. That's where we're at."
Tyler Huntley could benefit from more preseason reps
Huntley had a strong second half in Baltimore's 20-3 win over Carolina, and he played the entire game, save for the final series when Kenji Bahar took a knee. Huntley won't get as many practice reps once the season begins, even if he is chosen to be Jackson's backup. Giving Huntley another full game to run the offense could help his development.
"The more experience he gets, the better off he'll be," Roman said. "There's nothing like real football and he's gotten tons of experience this training camp. We don't have to reinvent our offense when he gets in there."