Baltimore Ravens  

 

Ravens see promise; Lamar Jackson sees Super Bowl titles

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the Baltimore Ravens were on the clock for the first time Thursday night, it was understood within the draft room that they were not going to go defense if they used the pick. At that point, a staffer turned to a defensive coach and asked which offensive player he'd like to see them select.

"Lamar Jackson," the coach said. "I don't want to face him."

The sentiment was understandable. In three seasons at Louisville, the dynamic dual-threat quarterback threw for 9,043 yards and 69 touchdowns and rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 scores. He did not run the 40-yard dash for scouts during the pre-draft process but later said he was timed at 4.34 seconds last year while running with turf toe.

The Ravens did not select him with the 16th overall pick, instead moving down, via trades with the Bills and Titans, to 25, where they drafted tight end Hayden Hurst. But when other teams, perhaps scared off by the proposition of using a high first-round pick on a quarterback who would require them to build an offense around his unique skill set, left Jackson available as the night drew to a close, general manager Ozzie Newsome maneuvered back into the bottom of the first round and selected Jackson at No. 32. The move sent a current of excitement through the draft room and a potential shiver down the spines of coordinators who might one day be asked to contain him.

"We did a great amount of work with Lamar throughout the whole process, beginning with the [NFL Scouting] Combine and then the film study and then pro days and visits and those things," said quarterbacks coach James Urban. "The thing that jumps out, just as much as the film, is how important it is to this young man ... to be great."

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg used the word "uncommon" -- as in special -- on multiple occasions to describe Jackson's abilities, which this coaching staff seems most-suited to accentuate. For instance, Mornhinweg and Urban worked with the speedy yet strong-armed Michael Vick in Atlanta, and Greg Roman, Baltimore's assistant head coach and tight ends coach, was the offensive coordinator in San Francisco during Colin Kaepernick's best seasons.

Their experiences have provided them with what they deem to be a credible blueprint for developing Jackson, whom they acknowledge will need time to reach his full potential. The initial plan is to start at ground zero and throw everything at him to see what he does well and what they need to focus on. There is no urgency to rush him on the field because incumbent Joe Flacco returns as the starter, and former dual-threat QB Robert Griffin was signed this offseason.

"The first thing, much like we did with Mike [Vick], is for him to ... learn how to play the quarterback position like we play the quarterback position here," Mornhinweg said.

Which means?

"[Focusing on things like] footwork," he said. "Just how we go about the footwork -- the base, wide-base, short-style, all those things that we'll work on from Day 1, both pre-practice and post-practice."

Grooming Jackson will require a disciplined and delicate dance, because his game is so different from that of the statuesque Flacco. Defensive coordinators have never stayed up late worrying about Flacco beating them with his mobility. Jackson, on the other hand, makes them age in dog years because of his elusiveness.

That said, the Ravens believe there is overlap in the players' games, such as both being able to throw well off designed bootlegs. But Jackson will also need play calls specifically tailored to his skill set to blossom, and that's where every minute of every day comes in. The Ravens are expected to focus more heavily on his grooming during intensive pre- and post-practice sessions, because Flacco will get most of the reps during game week.

"We talked about it just briefly on his visit about how we would go about these things," Mornhinweg said. "So James [Urban] and myself and [coach] John [Harbaugh] plan together, pre-practice, all those things ... It's going to be important. As far as the future, we'll see what happens there. Joe's the quarterback of this football team. Lamar is going to develop all those things."

"I just want to get that playbook in my hands as soon as possible and get to it," Jackson said. "I want to compete. [But] I'm trying to learn. He's a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. If you win the Super Bowl, you're the G.O.A.T to me. You led your team to a Super Bowl, so I'm going to try to learn as much as I can from Joe Flacco."

Jackson arrived at the Ravens' training facility wearing dark slacks, a white button-down shirt and dress shoes. He had a backpack over one shoulder and his mother, Felicia Jones, at his side. He was poised and engaging during his first face-to-face session with the Baltimore media, ducking no questions and often using humor to defuse potentially sensitive or awkward moments, such as the long wait to hear his name called.

"When it got to the last pick, I was like, 'Man, I hope I didn't wear my [green] suit for no reason!' I felt the suit was kind of fly."

A weight was lifted when the Ravens selected him, yet Jackson admits to still having sizable chips on his shoulder because he lasted so long and watched four other quarterbacks taken ahead of him. He will use that slight as motivation to not only prove doubters wrong, but to affirm a self-pride that flows vigorously through his veins.

"I want to be great. I want to win games. I want to win Super Bowls," he said. "I want to leave a great legacy behind, not just be a quarterback drafted in the first round who doesn't produce."

Asked to define greatness, he mentioned winning games and championships. It's why he said he would rather win a Super Bowl than one day wear a gold jacket as a Hall of Famer. "I have a Heisman. People know who I am. And if you're winning Super Bowls, things like gold jackets can follow."

Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter @JimTrotter_NFL.

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