OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There is no quarterback controversy in Baltimore. Certainly not now. Not yet.
Of course, in a city so starved for anything resembling an NFL passing game, that didn't stop a smattering of fans from shouting: "We want Lamar" after rookie Lamar Jackson completed his first rudimentary pass of training camp. But the reality is, they are going to have to wait a while to see Jackson in anything other than a complementary role on Sundays. The Ravens were the first team to take the field for camp last week, and, taking in their first few practice sessions, it's obvious that all eyes are on the player selected with the final pick of the first round.
With coach John Harbaugh being very judicious with his veterans -- the Ravens have an extra week of practice to work with by virtue of their participation in the Hall of Fame Game -- and with most of the team's recognizable pieces being off the field midway through the practices to slowly "ramp them up," as Harbaugh put it, there wasn't much to see outside of how Jackson looked compared to third-string quarterback Robert Griffin III. Oh, and there is no quarterback controversy there, either, as Jackson is unequivocally the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart and I suspect Griffin is not even on the roster when the season begins (he could, in my estimation, be a 54th man of sorts, with no outside interest in him on the open market and Baltimore likely able to shuffle him on and off the roster on a weekly basis if need be depending on injuries).
So, for now (and probably forever), it's all about Jackson. Any decent throw he produced – and there were many – produced an audible reaction from the crowd and you can certainly see flashes of what might be to come. He unleashed a few perfect deep balls, including a bomb to receiver Jordan Lasley down the right sideline that the Ravens' social media team was quick to get on Twitter. He looked strong and dynamic running to the left sideline at times, then rifling the ball back the other way across his body on a line to the hashmarks. Sometimes it appeared his long ball wobbled just a bit -- perhaps it's part of the adjustment to the NFL football, a bit different from college -- but overall he certainly looked the part.
And, without a doubt, the most interesting parts of what were largely mundane practices with ample special teams work and no one in pads and not a collision yet to take pace, were when Baltimore utilized multiple quarterbacks. There were times when Jackson pitched the ball to Griffin on an end around and times where Flacco and Jackson shared the same backfield. Those plays and formations will be the earliest conduit to Jackson taking the field in games that actually count in the standings, though we will undoubtedly see plenty of him running the entire offense in the preseason games.
"It can go a couple ways," Flacco said of the multi-quarterback looks. "Right now, when we do it, I think it's like a big red flag to the defense, like, 'Hey, they're probably doing something.' But Lamar is a heck of an athlete, and he can throw the football, so the opportunities are definitely endless."
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Saturday night was to be the big public unveiling of Jackson, with the Ravens set for the annual first padded practice under the lights at M&T Bank Stadium (camp sessions at the team facility are limited to only a few thousand spectators and can be tough to come by). Alas, that was washed away by rain, but with five exhibition games to play around with, and with the Ravens focused on getting Flacco, who has battled significant back and knee injuries in recent years, into Week 1 as healthy as possible, there are ample opportunities to still deploy their newest weapon on an offense frankly starved for them since Flacco led them to the Super Bowl six years ago.
With so many in this area eager to embrace change, given the constraints and woes of this passing game and coming off a year where Flacco somehow managed to gain only 5.3 yards per attempt and with him not averaging over 7.0 yards per throw since 2014, the dynamic between Flacco and Jackson will be under intense scrutiny here. Flacco has handled the situation with aplomb and will be a great teammate and largely say all the right things, but if the offense is tepid and the Ravens not looking the part of a playoff club, Jackson could end up seeing much more of the field in the second half of the season. Frankly, no one knows precisely how all of this will play (Flacco wasn't expected to play much his rookie season and ended up taking every snap) and the former Super Bowl MVP is showing respect for the Heisman Trophy winner but also making it clear this is still his team.
It's widely understood that owner Steve Bisciotti -- at a time when unused tickets were at all-time highs and with general fan interest in his team hitting all-time lows -- was very much on board with securing Jackson in the first round. So even if Flacco flourishes under pressure as he has in the past, he very well might be elsewhere in 2019, regardless, with a return to form perhaps a trigger to a trade in the way it was for Alex Smith in Kansas City a year ago with Patrick Mahomes waiting on the sidelines.
"I think everybody has thoughts and feelings when that initially happens," Flacco said of the Ravens trading up to take Jackson in the first round, "and then when all that goes down and what that really means. As far as me going out on the field and the things that actually matter, I'm taking it as I always take it. I'm working hard.
"I come into this building and I work, and I try to push the other guys and I try to make relationships with them and really do everything I can to make this team better. And I'm not changing that in any way. But obviously, I think everybody, whether they felt good or bad about it, when Lamar got drafted, there was a certain feeling. Can't hide that."
Will that feeling eventually including annoyance at having to answer questions about an unproven back-up quarterback so often?
"No, I don't [believe they will], because I think we're going to win, and we're not going to hear about it."
Fair enough. We'll certainly see. In the meantime, this is still his team and with what should be a much-improved group of pass catchers (receivers Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown are all new, as are tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews), there is nowhere to go but up for this offense. Whether it reaches heights sufficient to keep Jackson in the wings in 2018 will be all the talk in Baltimore along the way.
"I've been seeing them all offseason. I love everything about Joe. We have to be better for him. He'll say it to them that he needs to be better. But having a healthy offseason for him and getting the new additions and then working every day in the offseason and the break that they had time off, and they worked and then seeing them now … I expect Joe to have a career year this year and him to lead our team to the playoffs."
A year ago, even that wasn't enough to keep Smith with the Chiefs, despite a near MVP campaign. Stay tuned.
- Baltimore might finally have fixed its secondary woes. Top corner Jimmy Smith is way ahead of schedule in his return from an Achilles injury and taking part in some team drills already. "He looks pretty darn good out there," Harbaugh said, and Tavon Young was one of the best young slot corners in the NFL as a rookie in 2016 and is back after missing all of 2017 due to injury. "Tavon is right back to where he was," secondary coach Chris Hewitt said. Brandon Carr would provide solid depth with cornerback Marlon Humphrey entering camp off a fine 2017 rookie season and Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson should be able to hold things down at the safety spot.
- Hurst and Andrews missed an early practice due to muscle issues but it's nothing major. After the Ravens were ravaged by injuries in recent years to players young and old, Harbaugh is going to err decidedly on the side of caution in such a long camp.
- Terrell Suggs is an absolute freak of nature and appears to be in better shape than ever. He'll need to be because Baltimore has almost no proven pass rush beyond him and it remains the biggest question with this team. They've run Suggs into the ground in recent years with him naturally hitting the wall in December and team officials are desperate for youngsters like Timmy Williams and Tyus Bowser to emerge and help carry the load for Suggs and veteran Matt Judon, who continues to emerge.
- There isn't much question that Alex Collins is the feature back here, and he has added five pounds muscle to show up at 205 this year. A year ago the journeyman wasn't sure he would earn a practice squad spot, but he was a great fit in this offense and the emphasis on RPOs and the return of All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda from injury should open more lanes for him this year. "I want to be the guy, I have that fire in me,' " Collins said. If Kenneth Dixon can avoid suspension and injury he could be a very productive third-down back as well.
- Yanda is fully recovered from his ankle/foot injuries that cost him much of 2017, but a shoulder injury from offseason lifting will lead to him being held back as a precaution. Harbaugh said he could play a regular-season game right now if need be, and all the focus is on having him in that same mode come September.
- I have a hard time seeing a bevy of recent high draft picks making this team. Former first-round WR Breshad Perriman will be trade bait if he flashes anything at all in the preseason (his hands have been awful; he got a Bronx cheer from fans at camp a few times when he did hold on to the ball on routine routes). Tight end Maxx Williams, LB Kamalei Correa and DE Branson Kajusi won't make this team based on their former draft status alone and have been largely lost causes to this point.