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Why Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s best training camp throws could unlock his 2022 season

Three preseason games, five weeks and hundreds of training camp pitches still separate Lamar Jackson from Week 1, but it’s not hard to imagine what the Ravens quarterback will look like on 9/11. .

During a week and a half of training camp, Jackson was more accurate than he had been for five summers in Baltimore, and his reach as a passer has never been greater. Even with the Ravens’ top wide receiver, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, traded this offseason, and their top left tackle, Ronnie Stanley, still not cleared to practice, Jackson has inspired rave reviews from coaches and his colleagues. teammates.

“He probably throws it better than I’ve ever seen him throw it,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said last week. “He’s worked really hard in the offseason, and it shows, so he has to build on that. It’s really exciting. We’re all really excited about it. And now we all have to be on the same wavelength, so that we can operate as a unit and…take every ounce of that performance and maximize it.

Per the Ravens’ reporting guidelines for training camp, only part of the offense’s form and structure can be shared. But Jackson’s offseason improvements came one after another in highlights throughout the team’s nine practices at Owings Mill and inside M&T Bank Stadium.

Roman said Jackson’s refined passing ability could change the way he calls the game. But it could also change how Jackson himself attacks defenses. Here’s a look at some of Jackson’s best camp pitches and what they could portend for the season ahead.

Back-to-shoulder throw to Devin Duvernay

On the first day of camp, Jackson came on defense with a pinpoint throw to Duvernay in 11-on-11 action. With blitz inside linebacker Kristian Welch on him, Jackson reached the end of his downfall in three steps, swung to his right and fired at Duvernay.

Cornerback Kevon Seymour was jostling with the third-year wide receiver, but he didn’t turn his head until it was too late. Jackson put his back shoulder throw where only Duvernay could get it. As he went out of bounds, Duvernay reached for the ball, put both feet in bounds and secured the hold on the first down.

“These things are focus points for Lamar in the offseason,” coach John Harbaugh said. “To see him come in and make those throws is really a positive thing for us. We just have to keep building on that.

According to Sports Info Solutions, Jackson didn’t attempt a single rear shoulder discoloration last season. Substitute Tyler Huntley only attempted one. Elsewhere in the AFC North, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers threw 17 and Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals 10.

Throwing could be an attractive option for Jackson this season, especially with the 6-foot-1 Rashod Bateman replacing little Brown as the Ravens’ top outside receiver. If opposing defenses need to commit a safety to stop the Ravens’ rushing attack, Jackson should have more opportunities to attack cornerbacks left alone in coverage.

Blitz beater to Tylan Wallace

Even in practice, former Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale never shied away from threatening quarterbacks with an all-out blitz or bringing one on. But after impressing early in his career against heavy pressure, whether from Martindale or opposing defences, Jackson took a step back last season.

According to the SIS, Jackson was 6 for 18 for 41 yards and no touchdowns in 2021 against “Cover 0” schemes, which leave just one defender in coverage for each receiver, and blitz with the rest. The Miami Dolphins, in particular, rattled Jackson with their aggressive approach in an upset victory in Week 10.

Across the NFL, quarterbacks are treated like an endangered species in camp, with pass throwers told to avoid contact. But so far, Jackson has seemed cool and composed in the face of heavy stares from new coordinator Mike Macdonald. And while he didn’t like Roman’s play call, he showed a willingness to change him at the line of scrimmage.

On Wednesday, Jackson lined up in the shotgun as the opposing defense showed a front-snap Cover 0 look. As the game clock ticked, Jackson sounded audible in a new play. After reorganizing the offense and getting the snap just in time, he took a quick drop before hitting wide receiver Tylan Wallace, executing a searing route into the open space against cornerback Kyle Fuller. No one came close to firing him.

Deep blow to James Near II

Jackson’s best camp shot could also turn out to be the most important. During an intense period of 11-on-11 play on Wednesday, he found Near, usually more of a close-range and mid-range target, slipping past safety Chuck Clark on the field. Jackson’s 65-yard touchdown strike hit Close in the numbers just yards from the goal line. Everything looked so easy.

“I think it’s amazing how he can, without extending his arm, just [throw] with a flick of the wrist, and it’s like throwing a ball 50 or 60 yards down the field,” said right tackle Morgan Moses. “Anytime you have an elite guy like that, it’s our job as an offensive line to keep him up, to keep him there, because obviously when he’s there the winning percentage increases a lot.”

Harbaugh targeted the Ravens’ passing game months ago. Jackson went 17 for 50 on passes from at least 20 yards in the field last season, finishing with three touchdowns and four interceptions, according to SIS. Of the 34 NFL quarterbacks with at least 20 such deep attempts, Jackson ranked 25th in accuracy (34%) and 25th in passer rating (66.0). Brown’s shaky hands hurt production on offense, but Jackson and the offensive line also struggled.

Throughout camp, Jackson rarely forced action on the field. Even when he threw double coverage on a shot play for Bateman on Tuesday, the ball was placed in such a way that only Bateman could play on it. (Unfortunately for Jackson, the ball slipped out of his hands.)

Equally encouraging was Jackson’s willingness to move the ball around. Bateman, Duvernay, Close and tight ends Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely have all had at least one deep hold in this camp.

“It’s great to be up against one of the best quarterbacks in this league right now,” safety Marcus Williams said Friday. “Fighting someone like that every day will improve your defense because you never know what they’re going to do. He can throw the ball very well; he can run the ball. So we always have to be on our ‘A’ game every day.

Throwing in the red zone to Mark Andrews

With Bateman and Duvernay out on Friday and much of the training focused on red-zone work, Jackson struggled to find the open man. But he opened the Ravens’ 11-on-11 first period with two shots in the red zone that the offense needs more of.

On the Ravens’ first play, from about the 10-yard line, Jackson faked a handoff and rolled out before finding Andrews for a touchdown. On the next play, a few yards closer to the goal line, Jackson held on against a blitz and threw another dart at an open Andrews in the middle of the end zone.

Jackson has been largely error-free in the red zone this side, with both of his interceptions coming close to midfield. Likely’s emergence also helped; the rookie had back-to-back touchdowns on a red-zone drill on Thursday, edging out safety Geno Stone for his first score before getting a juggled catch off inside linebacker Diego Fagot on the next play.

Jackson will appreciate the extra help. He was solid but unspectacular in his inside-20 runs last season: 29 for 50 for 207 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions, with four sacks taken. According to SIS, his passer rating of 90.6 ranked 27th and his accuracy of 58% ranked 19th among quarterbacks with at least 20 red-zone pass attempts in 2021.

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