OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When Lamar Jackson is asked about how much he has grown, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback thinks to last year’s practices where he would get the play from a coach and try to repeat it in the huddle before stopping.
“Uh … Say it again?” Jackson would ask the coaches.
When it comes to Jackson’s grasp of the offense, his evolution is more of a revolution. He not only knows what he’s supposed to do on every play this summer but everyone else’s responsibility as well.
If a teammate is not lined up in the right spot, Jackson points him in the right direction. If that player is still confused — like running back Kenneth Dixon was at one practice — Jackson places his hands on his teammate’s shoulder pads and physically moves him.
While there is a running commentary as to whether Jackson can develop into an effective passer, there is no debate when it comes to his control of the offense in his first full season as a starting quarterback.
“He is a complete leader right now,” wide receiver Chris Moore said. “On the field, he has got command and presence. I cannot wait to see how this thing ends up.”
Jackson’s understanding of the offense came under criticism earlier this offseason. When Baltimore began its offseason training activities with a new offense, Jackson commented he didn’t know of the change, which led to a blitz of snarky comments from the football world.
Jackson replied by studying the playbook and getting together with his receivers before training camp. The result: Through 13 training camp practices and two preseason games, there have been fewer than a handful of times when the Ravens were called for delay of game or needed a timeout because Jackson was uncertain.
“Whether it’s walk-throughs, meetings, practice, you’re really seeing him take the reins of the offense,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “It’s exciting.”
The Ravens built their offense this year around Jackson, and Jackson has, in turn, wrapped himself around what team officials believe will be a “revolutionary” offense. Baltimore has been throwing a lot of different concepts, formations and cadences at Jackson, and he has not appeared to flinch.
“I’m way ahead, way ahead of where I was last year,” Jackson said. “Last year, I was asking coach, ‘What do you have right here?’ and stuff like that. This year, it’s a lot of studying, dialing in to my playbook, getting with my teammates in the offseason. They helped a lot.”
Jackson’s maturity has been the buzz in the locker room and in the huddle:
Wide receiver Willie Snead IV: “When he came in, I wouldn’t say he didn’t know what he was doing, but it was his first couple of games in the NFL. Everything was just coming at him full speed. Now, a year later, he’s comfortable. He’s comfortable with the guys around him. He has command of the huddle, and we believe in him.”
Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda: “He’s definitely commanding the huddle with more confidence from last year, just calling the plays. And, you can see he’s settling in a little bit, which you should be in your second year, and he’s definitely done that.”
Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley: “Just being more clear in the huddle, knowing exactly what they want, what he wants from his players and what he wants to see out of each play. And if things don’t look right, he’s going to fix it. He’s going to get it the way he wants it to look.”
Jackson’s takeover dates back to last season. As important as it was for Jackson to lead the Ravens to the AFC North title, it was also notable in how he handled what could’ve been an awkward situation. Jackson was the model of humility when taking over for the injured Joe Flacco, showing the former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player plenty of respect.
When you talk to a player about the 22-year-old quarterback, you’ll inevitably hear, “Everybody loves Lamar.” In the locker room, you’ll see him chatting with wide receivers and offensive linemen as well as defensive players.
On the practice field, Jackson is one of the few players who transcends any unit. He gets as many high-fives or slaps on the back from defensive players as offensive players. When tempers flare, Jackson is one of the first to jump in between the fray.
“He doesn’t really need to develop as a leader. He’s a natural leader,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s developing as a quarterback. He’s developing as a person, like anybody would. Guys gravitate to him. He has a very high emotional IQ. He gets people, just being himself. Along with playing really well, it seems that that is the key to him as a leader.”
When there have been a couple of false starts in a row, Jackson has shown his frustration by spiking the ball. But, when the second- and third-team offenses struggle, he has been known to put his head in the huddle to offer words of encouragement. Throughout training camp, the Ravens have rallied around Jackson’s leadership.
So, why do players gravitate to him?
“Because I’m one of the guys. I hang out,” Jackson said. “I’m cool, man.”