If you take a moment to really listen to Lamar Jackson, he’s got a few Yogi Berra-quality pearls up his sleeve.
Berra was famous for tongue-in-cheek quips with inherent confliction or redundancy: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” or “Ninety percent of the game is half mental.”
The Ravens quarterback tossed out a few of his own Wednesday afternoon after his first offseason workout in Owings Mills under the public eye. When asked what he thought of the rampant speculation – on talk radio, on social media and, sure, even at The Baltimore Banner – that he might skip OTAs, which are voluntary, he smiled.
“I ignore it,” he said, “but it’s funny.”
Now Jackson is here. He’s working with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken and quarterbacks coach Tee Martin. On a new, more varied passing attack that should have him using his arm more than his feet, Jackson said: “I’m loving it so far.”
Great. Check that box. Now can we talk about something else?
It was always a bit of a head-scratcher why, after Jackson committed to Baltimore for the next five years, so many seemed to be wringing their hands about whether the franchise quarterback would show up for OTAs. At his news conference, Jackson showed enthusiasm for Monken and his system, had already gotten hold of a playbook, and said he would be back “soon” for workouts.
Jackson attended OTAs every season from 2018 to 2021 but skipped in 2022 — during a summer when, it should be pointed out, he was knee-deep in contract discussions. Players routinely use voluntary workout attendance for leverage; Jackson is not special in this regard.
The idea that OTAs are some sort of magic launchpad is largely fanciful. After missing OTAs last season, Jackson had a productive start to the season, throwing for 749 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first three games.
And yet sewing circles would blush at the gossip that runs through Ravens Nation.
When Monday arrived but Jackson had not, it became “news” that he wasn’t present. Well, he and at least a dozen other guys who aren’t quite as newsworthy as a handsomely paid, 26-year-old former MVP.
Where’s Odell Beckham Jr.? Where’s Mark Andrews? Well, they’re doing their own thing — and coach John Harbaugh said they’re among the players the coaching staff is tracking independently. No one has grabbed a torch or a pitchfork because they’re not here.
“I think about what OBJ’s doing out there in Arizona — I don’t have any problem with that,” Harbaugh said. “Or what Mark’s doing. They’ll be here soon enough, whenever they’re ready. And they talk to me and tell me what they’re doing. They’re working hard.”
Jackson arrived Tuesday and was on the field Wednesday, albeit in a somewhat limited capacity. The Ravens did not include him in full-team drills, preferring as Harbaugh put it to “bubble-wrap” him as he lifts, runs and throws with the team.
No rational person believes the handful of throws Jackson made Wednesday — without pads, against no defenders — will be the difference between winning a Super Bowl next February or going down in flames. Why are we fretting about his attendance anyway?
The importance of Jackson’s presence is more symbolic than practical. It shows investment in Monken and the new offense, and a willingness to grow and learn. But learning the verbiage and schemes in the system? Shoot, this is the Zoom generation. Even though he wasn’t at Football School (which sounds remedial for a veteran like Jackson), he told the media he watched video of the practices as he worked to learn Monken’s offense.
Being at the team facility also potentially builds camaraderie with some of his new teammates, but a lot of the returners already had those relationships. Jackson talked about the importance of being more vocal this season, but when asked if he had seen more vocal leadership from his quarterback, center Tyler Linderbaum just shrugged.
“I mean I think Lamar’s always been a leader,” he said. “I’ve always thought he’s been vocal when he needed to be.”
Jackson has been a leader. He’s been a winner. He’s earned enough trust in judgment to determine which offseason routine works best for him – just like any other veteran Raven. The biggest wall between him and success hasn’t been OTA attendance; it has been injury.
Even Harbaugh, who wishes he had perfect attendance this week, acknowledges that wish is really just a coach’s dream. “I know everybody’s got their own circumstance, and that’s OK,” he said.
The things the Ravens have needed Jackson to do, he’s been doing. That’s why he got paid. The idea that there is some hidden edge to winning in perfect OTA attendance is largely the product of active imaginations. And, now that Jackson is in the fold, it should put a great deal of empty clucking to rest anyway.
Jackson is online plenty, so it’s likely he hasn’t truly ignored such tedious speculation 3 1/2 months before he plays an actual football game. But it’s probably true that he mostly finds it funny.
Another Jackson gem in the Berra vein came when a reporter asked if he was relieved he’s no longer being asked contract questions.
“Nah, because I was cool regardless,” he said. “But it’s much funner, being about football and nothin’ else.”
Football and nothin’ else. Too bad that’s all there is to talk about now.