Hours before the NBA Finals tipped off Thursday night in Denver, quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ passing offense went to work in Owings Mills, laying the groundwork for a scheme that may very well borrow from new-age basketball strategy: When efficiency is essential, hunt for layups and 3-pointers.
In Jackson’s first open 11-on-11 periods since reporting to this offseason’s organized team activities, he started with a noticeably quick trigger. Jackson threw with little hesitation after run fakes. He moved briskly through his reads before finding open receivers in the flat. He threw one short-range pass so assuredly over the middle that tight end Charlie Kolar appeared surprised to find it pinned against his numbers.
Jackson has always played at his own pace. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s arrival could accelerate it somewhat. Over Jackson’s first five years in Baltimore, he emerged as arguably the NFL’s fastest quarterback — but also one of the slowest to trigger. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, his average time to throw every season since 2018 has ranked in the bottom five among qualifying quarterbacks.
The Ravens’ reliance on play-action has juiced those numbers, as has Jackson’s scrambling ability. But Jackson also has been guilty at times of passing up easy throws underneath for higher-risk, higher-reward passes downfield. Considering his injury history, and Monken’s menu of run-pass options, screens and routes out of the backfield, Jackson could enter the 2023 season with a lighter burden and a faster internal clock.
The Ravens will look for deep shots, too, of course. With the pressure Jackson puts on run defenses, he should continue to get advantageous looks downfield. His execution over his career, however, has been lacking. Last season, Jackson finished 11-for-40 on passes of at least 20 air yards, according to Sports Info Solutions.
That didn’t keep him from looking for big plays Thursday. In seven-on-seven action, Jackson missed wide receivers Tarik Black and Zay Flowers on back-to-back downfield throws before finding wide receiver Tylan Wallace down the left sideline.
Later, Jackson ended an 11-on-11 period with four misfires, all intermediate to deep throws: a deep incompletion into double coverage, looking for wide receiver James Proche II; an overthrow on an out-breaking route by Flowers; another overthrow to Proche as Jackson scrambled to his left and threw across his body; and an interception by safety Marcus Williams, who stepped in front of wide receiver Andy Isabella on an apparent post route.
It wasn’t a sharp practice for any of the Ravens’ top quarterbacks, but Jackson has the most to catch up on. First-year quarterbacks coach Tee Martin said his work in OTAs would inform how the coaching staff handles the rest of Jackson’s preseason plan.
“You’re coaching a quarterback who’s different than a lot of different other quarterbacks,” Martin said. “The things that we’re doing [in practice] with Coach Monken’s system is a little different than what we have done here in the past, and so we just adjust. Everything was built around Lamar. …
“He’s so different and so unique that I just went back and revamped all the drills towards Lamar’s movement skills and things that we can do to improve him and continue what he has already built since he’s been here as a rookie, since his rookie year, to getting him to the next level, to the player he wants to be. That’s what it’s all about, improving his already great skill set.”
Jackson didn’t have a lot of his expected help out wide. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who missed most of last season with a Lisfranc (foot) injury, was held out of team drills again, while tight end Mark Andrews was limited in 11-on-11 work. Wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Odell Beckham Jr., meanwhile, missed the voluntary practice. Beckham also sat out last week’s open workout.
“When he is here, he’s been positive,” first-year wide receivers coach Greg Lewis said of Beckham on Thursday. “When he’s not here, he’s been positive from that perspective, too. But what we’ve talked about, I’m going to keep between me and him.”
Also missing on offense were running back J.K. Dobbins, injured wide receiver Mike Thomas (shoulder), tight end Brian Walker, right guard Kevin Zeitler and left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Dobbins, Zeitler and Stanley also skipped last week’s open workout. Running back Gus Edwards and wide receiver Shemar Bridges were limited to workouts with an athletic trainer. Fullback Patrick Ricard watched from the sideline for the second straight open practice.
On defense, linemen Travis Jones and Rayshad Nichols; inside linebacker Roquan Smith; outside linebacker Tyus Bowser; cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Rock Ya-Sin and Kyu Blu Kelly; and safety Jaquan Amos were missing. Bowser and Humphrey also skipped last week’s open workout. Jalyn Armour-Davis was limited to positional work, and fellow cornerback Damarion “Pepe” Williams was a spectator for the second straight open practice.
- While Isaiah Likely had the biggest play among the Ravens’ tight ends, catching a touchdown on a back-shoulder throw from Jackson in the opening 11-on-11 period, the 6-foot-6 Kolar continued to be a popular target, especially over the middle. “Those guys are going to continue to learn and grow,” Andrews said of the second-year tight ends. “Those guys come to work every day, have fun, get better. They want to learn, and just joys to be around. I’m lucky to have two guys like that in the room.”
- The defensive line was disruptive early, deflecting three passes from Jackson, only to watch two of them still end up completed. Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington and Brent Urban got their hands on throws in 11-on-11 action.
- After skipping the team’s voluntary “football school,” Jackson’s still playing catch-up with the offense. He was out of sync with running back Justice Hill on one handoff, dooming the play to a do-over.
- Flowers dropped a pass Thursday, but Lewis said the first-round pick has been “fantastic.” He added: “He’s an eager player, eager learner. Wants to be great. Wants to be great at everything he does, and it’s been fantastic to see him out here getting the opportunity to make some plays. His quickness and explosion show up daily.”
- Wide receiver Devin Duvernay had a solid day, highlighted by a back-shoulder grab down the right sideline against cornerback Kevon Seymour. Jackson also connected with Duvernay for a nice completion after taking advantage of his cousin, cornerback Trayvon Mullen, who’d roamed too far out of position in his zone coverage.
- Former Maryland wide receiver Dontay Demus also had a couple of catches, though he couldn’t stop newly signed cornerback Jordan Swann, a St. Frances graduate and fellow undrafted rookie, from coming down with an interception on a slightly underthrown deep ball down the left sideline.
- The practice’s unlikely star was outside linebacker Malik Hamm, a City graduate and undrafted rookie who twice earned Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year honors at Lafayette. Working against the Ravens’ second- and third-string offenses, the 6-3, 246-pound Hamm won as an edge rusher a handful of times over the final half-hour of practice. After he followed a successful speed rush on one drop-back with a successful spin move inside on the next play, the Ravens’ defense celebrated gleefully. “Yeah, Hamm!” one player shouted.