Lamar Jackson takes big step by running final minicamp practice

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens minicamp began this week with Lamar Jackson playing at the same time as Joe Flacco.

It ended with Jackson running the show.

In the final tuneup before training camp, Jackson took every rep of team drills, quarterbacking the first, second and third teams. The rookie first-round pick responded with his best throwing day of the spring.

"That’s a big step in the right direction," coach John Harbaugh said.

Jackson's biggest challenge this offseason has been consistency. He would show great anticipation with a strike down the middle of the field on one play and then sail a pass over a running back's head on the next one.

On Thursday, Jackson connected on deep passes along the sideline and excelled in the red zone. One of his best throws was a 12-yard touchdown pass that floated over four defenders to wide receiver Jaelon Acklin in the back of the end zone.

Jackson declined to grade himself.

"I’ve been pretty good, though," Jackson said with a smile. "I’ll give you that."

Early in the week, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg came up with the plan to give an entire practice to Jackson.

It has been a major adjustment for Jackson. He didn't play under center regularly at Louisville. He didn't have to relay long play calls in the huddle.

"Just putting him out there and putting the pressure on him to have to run the whole practice and operate the offense was valuable," Harbaugh said.

Despite Jackson's strides, there is still no quarterback controversy in Baltimore. Joe Flacco remains ahead of Jackson and Robert Griffin III on the depth chart.

"I think Joe is obviously a step ahead of those guys," safety Eric Weddle said, "and coming from a new system with Rob, you can tell he’s been in this league; he makes some unbelievable throws. And then Lamar is just a talent."

What really stood out to the Ravens' coaching staff was how well Jackson orchestrated the offense. He got the players out of the huddle and lined up on time. Baltimore had to call only one timeout before the play clock expired.

"The two things that I emphasize: compete and complete the ball," quarterbacks coach James Urban said. "I think he tried very hard to do that."

The one comment that everyone in the organization makes about Jackson -- from Harbaugh to Flacco -- is the rookie's willingness to learn.

"He is a very hard worker, very smart guy -- probably as a much as anybody," Harbaugh said. "Sometimes, it’s knowing what you don’t know. Some guys don’t know, and they don’t know that they don’t know. He knows a lot, but he also knows what he doesn’t know -- which is the type of an offense and the type of systems that he’s going to be exposed to in this league are far different than what he did in college. It’s just a different game."

Jackson made a strong first impression with teammates. Wide receiver Chris Moore is in awe every time Jackson takes off, and Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley described Jackson as a "young Michael Vick."

Asked how much he feels like a young Michael Vick, Jackson said, "I feel like a young myself."


Flacco stood off to the side for the final day of minicamp, but his work isn't done before the start of training camp on July 19.

For the first time since 2011, Flacco is planning to organize some extra throwing sessions with his receivers. Nothing is finalized, although he will be in touch with Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead.

"It’s going to be a lot of fun," Flacco said. "The good thing with these guys is that they come up to you and say, ‘Hey, Flac, you text me, we’re out there.’ So, we’ll be getting together, and it will be good for us."

This comes after Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome both publicly talked this offseason about the value of additional workouts and how they help a quarterback and his receivers mesh. Ravens fans also have been clamoring for Flacco to throw to his receivers beyond the team's practices.

If Flacco is going to get his receivers together, this is the season to do it. Among the 19 wide receivers and tight ends on the roster, 12 are in their first year with the Ravens, including the top three receivers (Crabtree, Brown and Snead) and the best pass-catching tight ends (rookies Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews).

"It’s always good to work the precision of the passing game," Harbaugh said. "I think Joe really likes these guys, and these guys are champing at the bit."

Flacco has scheduled these private workouts once in his 10-year NFL career. Harbaugh said Flacco and the receivers have been talking the whole offseason about meeting up to throw the ball around.

When Snead was in New Orleans, he said Drew Brees would get all of the receivers together for at least a week.

"When Joe brought that up, I thought that was key, because that type of timing comes up during the season," Snead said. "When you need a big play on third or fourth down and you’re looking for a guy, you know exactly what he’s going to do, because you put that timing [in]. It was big for us in New Orleans, and I know it will be big for us here."


Jackson described his relationship with Flacco as "pretty cool."

"We just get along," Jackson said. "He helps me out a lot, just like the other two guys, and we crack a few jokes. But it’s about business right now, and I’m just trying to learn as much as I can."

This year's quarterback room could be an awkward situation. Flacco has been the unquestioned starter for 10 years, and the Ravens drafted his possible successor in Jackson this year.

But there have been no signs of tension between Flacco and Jackson. There actually appears to be a good amount of respect.

"He’s doing a good job of learning, and he does a really good job of hanging in there and having his eyes down the field and finding the open guy," Flacco said. "He’s gradually getting better at speeding everything up, but he doesn’t make mistakes."

From the looks of minicamp, there is a chance they could play at the same time. There have been times in practice when Flacco plays quarterback and Jackson lines up at different positions.

"It’s pretty much a good disguise," said Jackson, who has insisted in the past that he wanted only to play quarterback. "You’ve got two quarterbacks who can throw the ball. Joe can run a little bit; I know you guys have seen him out there. It is pretty cool. We’ve got to hit them where it hurts, so we’re going to do our best."