As the ball floated in the direction of Odell Beckham Jr., it appeared it might be deflected or intercepted. But Beckham, seemingly knowing the potentially bad outcome, made a juke move that was effective enough to freeze Ravens defensive back Rock-Ya Sin before Beckham went up and snagged the pass.
A defensive coach grabbed Ya-Sin after the play to talk with him, as the Beckham fan section that had formed on one sideline rejoiced.
The moment was a glimpse, on the first day of Ravens training camp, of the kind of athleticism and instinct that made Beckham one of the league’s best receivers years ago, and what the Ravens hope he and Lamar Jackson can do to opponents’ defensive backs this season.
But, months ago, a moment like this seemed unlikely, as Jackson and the Ravens were at a standoff over his contract extension. Jackson later demanded a trade.
It felt like it could be the end of his time in Baltimore, and coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens were “working on” a trade. Eventually, the two sides came to an agreement that gave Jackson what was then the richest quarterback contract in NFL history.
“I’m just glad to be back out here,” Jackson said Wednesday, “being with my guys, being around my coaches. The atmosphere out here just feels different. Smells different, it’s probably the popcorn right now, but it smells different.”
There are many things different about the Ravens. One of the most apparent is their offense, designed by new coordinator Todd Monken.
The Ravens parted ways with Greg Roman last season, ending a tenure in which he was criticized for the Ravens’ slow approach in moving from their huddle to the line of scrimmage.
Last season, the Ravens were 25th in the NFL in seconds per play, according to Football Outsiders, a struggle that even Harbaugh noted last season. As practice began Wednesday, the Ravens were much quicker from the huddle to the line of scrimmage, something players such as offensive tackle Morgan Moses had noticed since minicamp.
“We had a little bit of a struggle last year getting out of the huddle and things like that,” Moses said Tuesday, “so being able to call a lot of stuff at the line of scrimmage and get plays at a high tempo, it’s incredible.”
“You know the Ravens always play fast, but it’s just different now,” Jackson added Wednesday.
One of the biggest changes in the offense for Jackson has been calling plays without the wristband he normally sports that has play calls written on it. Jackson said he isn’t wearing it because Monken likes to “haul it, call it.” Still, he said he may wear the wristband this season, depending on how the playbook expands.
Another adjustment is the freedom Jackson has at the line of scrimmage, where he can change plays and make other audibles at his discretion.
“If we’re right, if we’re wrong, we’re going to talk about it after the play in the meeting room,” Jackson said. “But most likely I feel like, how he’s coaching us, we’re going to be right nine times out of 10.”
How Jackson performs this season – in this new offense with a mega contract and a new coterie of wide receivers – will be under scrutiny more than ever.
Though it was a practice – and one without pads – Jackson looked accurate and comfortable in this new system. He was 19-for-23 (13-for-16 in 11-on-11). At the beginning of the period, Jackson was decisive and made throws to open targets, including a few jump balls like that one to Beckham, where receivers made plays. Toward the end, he appeared to hold the ball for long and ran more than he did earlier in the practice, resulting in what would have been a sack and one interception.
Jackson appears to have a connection with Zay Flowers, the receiver the Ravens chose in the first round of this year’s draft. Flowers looked like the Ravens’ best offensive player for most of the day. He had a highlight that rivaled Beckham’s when Flowers caught a short pass and made a quick juke that sent linebacker Roquan Smith stumbling.
The move drew oohs and aahs from the fans watching, with one fan yelling multiple times for anyone who could hear, “You better take Flowers’ over,” referring to placing a bet on Flowers’ total yards this season.
“Zay, his new name is ‘Joystick’ because how he be moving out there, so swift and making stuff happen,” Jackson said while mimicking the movements. “We’re going to call him ‘Joystick,’ not Zay.”
Jackson’s adjustment to this offense, along with his connection with his new receivers, will be key to the Ravens’ success. On Day 1, they appeared to be headed in the right direction.