Dominique gives his thoughts on Lamar Jackson’s rookie NFL season with the Baltimore Ravens.
Jeff Faughender, Louisville Courier Journal
INDIANAPOLIS – The Lamar Jackson Experiment played out nicely for the Baltimore Ravens last season.
When the Ravens shifted to the rookie quarterback at the season’s midway point with their long odds of making the playoffs, Jackson led his team to a 6-1 finish, an AFC North title and a postseason berth. Jackson’s play also gave the Ravens confidence to ship former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco to Denver (a deal they can’t discuss until it becomes official on March 13).
The Lamar Jackson Experiment is now officially the Lamar Jackson Era.
Every move Ravens brass has made thus far this offseason, and every one to follow, comes with the goal of ensuring the University of Louisville product is better equipped to grow, thrive and lead his team to new heights in his second year.
In January, John Harbaugh promoted offensive assistant Greg Roman to coordinator. Roman has essentially stripped down the Ravens’ attack and has begun the process of designing a scheme that will bring Jackson along and position Baltimore for more explosive plays.
This week, Ravens talent evaluators and coaches went to the NFL’s annual scouting combine with the mission of finding prospects who can further bolster Jackson’s supporting cast, and they’ll approach free agency with the same goal.
“We’ve got to add playmakers,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. “That could be playmakers at the tight end position — we addressed that a little bit last year — or the wide receiver position or running back position. Guys that can work with Lamar, take pressure off of Lamar and make plays in key situations. That’ll always be a priority for us moving forward.”
During that seven-game stretch, Jackson certainly displayed game-changing athleticism while averaging 4.7 yards per carry and rushing for five touchdowns. He also displayed the toughness required to play the position. The 6-2, 212-pounder took big hits at the ends of some of his runs and on some of the 16 sacks he sustained, but he remained resilient and avoided serious injury.
The Ravens’ wide receiving unit and pass protection in 2018, however, would best be described as average. Jackson helped mask Baltimore’s deficiencies. Knowing he would have limited time to operate while learning on the job, coaches frequently gave him a limited number of reads and told him to take off if his primary targets weren’t open.
The simplified offense gave the Ravens a chance and helped Jackson avoid disastrous mistakes.
“It was his first year. He came in midseason did a great job,” Harbaugh said before acknowledging, “and we were kind of working on the fly with the offense a little bit.”
The Ravens will say they had no problem with Jackson running more than 20 times in various games (he averaged 17 carries in those seven starts) because that formula produced victories. But they also know such a heavy workload might not be sustainable given the risk of injury to Jackson and defenses’ ability to catch up.
Team officials believe this offseason’s moves will pave the way for a more potent and versatile playbook, as well as a more dangerous Jackson.
“We’re looking forward to starting from the beginning with Lamar and seeing where he can grow,” Harbaugh said, referring to Baltimore’s plan to install its new offense tailor-made for Jackson in offseason practices.
Said DeCosta, “I think the offseason will be huge for him, getting comfortable in the offense which will be different with Greg Roman, developing a rapport with his wide receivers and tight ends, the verbiage of the offense, working on his mechanics. I think we’ve got a really, really good plan for Lamar this offseason. I think he’s going to make big strides this offseason.”
While the Ravens focus on providing Jackson with ample support, the quarterback is simultaneously working to improve himself.
With league rules prohibiting him from working with coaches during this portion of the offseason, Jackson is spending much of his time working with a private coach in Florida to sharpen his skills.
“I know Lamar is a very hard worker and he’s going to do everything he can do to be the best quarterback that he can be,” Harbaugh said. “I love his determination.”
Late this spring, Jackson will return to Ravens headquarters to begin learning the new offense, and Harbaugh said coaches will also work to help him improve ball security (he fumbled 12 times, losing four last season) and sharpen his consistency.
By the time the Ravens unveil their new offense in the fall, they hope they’ll also unleash a version of Jackson that’s more knowledgeable, more adept as a passer and just as effective as a runner, which will all combine to position him to make more game-changing plays, even when things break down.
“That’s a very important trait, to be able to go off-script,” Harbaugh said. “Look at basketball. Look at hockey. Look at any one of these sports. To be able to create a play on your own, 1-on-1, is incredibly valuable and forces the defense to account for it. Different quarterbacks do it different ways. We deal with (Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback) Ben Roethlisberger every year twice a year and he does it his way. … The guy in Houston (Deshaun Watson) does it his way, the guy over in New England (Tom Brady) does it his way, and Lamar is going to create his own unique way of doing that.”
The Ravens won the division with Jackson on an NFL crash course last season. If this offseason’s plans unfold as they anticipate, their divisional foes and the league as a whole had better watch out.