OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The final time Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was on the apply area, in 2021, the NFL’s most elusive participant may barely transfer. Jackson limped from drill to drill as he favored his injured proper ankle.
Seven months later, Jackson reported to coaching camp trying stronger than ever. He bulked as much as 230 kilos, which is eighteen kilos heavier than his listed weight final season.
“I advised him he appears like a special man,” Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman mentioned. “After I shake his hand, it feels a bit totally different; that I imply?”
It’s been a special offseason for Jackson, who has been requested repeatedly about contract negotiations however not a lot about his sturdiness. He was sidelined for the final 4 video games of the 2021 marketing campaign after Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah dove at Jackson’s heels. Jackson was taken to the bottom after escaping the pocket and making a cross, and he missed video games due to harm for the primary time in his NFL profession.
Since taking on because the Ravens beginning quarterback halfway by means of the 2018 season, Jackson has develop into one of many league’s high playmakers together with his skill to interrupt lengthy runs and prolong cross performs by eluding defenders. However there’s a danger: Jackson has been hit 710 instances, 100 greater than another quarterback over that span.
Getting into his fifth season, Jackson believes he has proved his dual-threat fashion of play is sustainable. The juked-out defenders outnumber the head-on collisions. His 33 runs of 20-plus yards triple the practices he has missed due to harm. And whereas he’s coming off his most important harm within the NFL, Jackson believes the circumstances of the play again up his level. In reality, Jackson is so assured he received’t endure one other vital harm, he’s willing to play out his fifth-year option and never signal an extension.
“Have you learnt how the harm occurred? Making an attempt to cross within the pocket,” Jackson mentioned. “I have been good [with] how I have been taking part in. However once I tried to shed and keep within the pocket, I obtained damage for the primary time. So, sure, I believe it speaks for itself.”
Jackson reached 5,000 yards passing and a couple of,000 yards speeding in 35 video games, which was the shortest time span wanted to perform the feat in NFL historical past. Final season, he tied his personal league mark with seven video games of no less than 200 yards passing and 50 yards speeding.
Jackson has racked up 615 speeding makes an attempt. No different NFL quarterback has run the ball greater than 500 instances in his first 4 years.
And whereas the Ravens have decreased the variety of Jackson’s designed runs in every of the previous three seasons, crew officers chalk up Jackson’s harm as “an aberration.”
“The factor about Lamar is that he’s in all probability among the best athletes on the place within the historical past of identified mankind,” Roman mentioned. “So, to not faucet into that might be considerably foolish, would it not not?”
For years, Ravens officers mentioned the worst hits can come when Jackson is within the pocket. His eyes are centered downfield, which will increase the possibilities of pictures from his blind aspect.
When Jackson bolts out of the pocket, he’s defenders and barely will get pushed into the bottom. He’s extra in command of his environment.
“He is a magician relating to contorting his physique to keep away from hits,” Roman mentioned.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh provided his take.
“You are going to be involved about that with any quarterback — quarterbacks can get hit within the pocket — however he is obtained a knack,” Harbaugh mentioned. “He is carried out it his complete life; I believe he is simply good at it, and he does not actually get hit that a lot and that onerous.
“Now, in fact, it is soccer, and I believe he’ll must handle and play the lengthy recreation that approach, definitely. However I type of belief him with that.”
Jackson is already No. 7 all time amongst speeding quarterbacks with 3,673 yards. Of the six quarterbacks who rank forward of him, solely Cam Newton had greater than 4 straight seasons of 100-plus carries.
“Each time folks ask me about operating quarterbacks, I at all times suppose Lamar is in a special class,” Ravens Professional Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard mentioned. “I really feel like typical quarterbacks, who’re operating quarterbacks, have actually good linear pace. Lamar can transfer in so many instructions and never lower his pace.
“So, I believe that is why his sturdiness is so good, as a result of he isn’t taking direct hits. And he is only a robust man. I imply, you see how he appears proper now?”
Including muscle would possibly lower the priority about Jackson withstanding hits, however the additional weight has prompted questions on the way it may influence his pace.
Since Jackson entered the league, he has produced 9 runs wherein he has exceeded 20 mph. Solely 5 gamers have recorded extra, and so they’re all operating backs: Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook and Saquon Barkley.
Roman mentioned he’s “ to see” how Jackson’s measurement impacts him as a runner.
“After I see him kick it into fifth gear right here, his engine is larger this 12 months,” Roman mentioned. “So, he may be a bit bit sooner. We’ll simply see the way it goes, however it’s trying fairly good.”
Not solely has the variety of Jackson’s designed runs dipped in recent times, his effectiveness as a runner has decreased, as effectively. In Jackson’s 2019 MVP season, he averaged 7.05 yards per keep on designed runs. Final season, that common dipped to 4.95 yards.
The place Jackson has improved is in shopping for time within the pocket and never operating. Final season, he had the second-best QBR (85.7) when he had three or extra seconds to cross.
“I at all times inform him, ‘Do not let me coach you out of being an important participant. Belief your instincts,’” Ravens quarterbacks coach James City mentioned. “We need to run the primary play the way in which that it has been designed. So, if the design of the play is to throw an in-cut, and the in-cut is there and we’re protected, let’s throw it. If not, now we go discuss in regards to the second play, and that is when he lets his nice pure skill take over and run.
“So, there is a positive line, however we need to run the primary play first — after which let your nice pure skill come by means of.”