Inside the Ravens’ quarterback room: How Lamar Jackson has emerged as a more evolved and vocal leader

At the Ravens’ sprawling headquarters and practice facility in Owings Mills — 200,000 total square feet, with its indoor field and weight room accounting for about half of it — Lamar Jackson takes a seat at a long table inside one of the first-floor meeting rooms inside “The Castle,” as the massive complex is affectionally known. At the head of the table is first-year quarterbacks coach Tee Martin. Jackson sits to his immediate left, backup Tyler Huntley next to Jackson and No. 3 quarterback Josh Johnson to Martin’s right, while assistant quarterbacks coach Kerry Dixon mans the computer further down the table.

While the stadium is where the magic happens for Jackson and the 8-3 Ravens, this is where much of the work takes place for the quarterback.

“Lamar’s like any other student,” says Martin, who spent the previous two seasons as Baltimore’s wide receivers coach and 25 years ago was the quarterback for national champion Tennessee. “He comes in with his bookbag, takes out his notepad, takes out his pen or pencil and just about every word that comes out of my mouth he’s taking it in.

“If there’s something that hits his brain a certain way, he’ll ask a question. He’s very good about being clear to make sure there’s clarity to whatever it is that you’re saying. He’s not shy about asking questions. He doesn’t play around in meetings. He’s a creative thinker. He’s meticulous about things. When you put a play in, he has this blank stare, because he’s playing the play in his mind. A lot of guys can’t do that.”

Most in the NFL also haven’t done what Jackson has this season.

His 69.5% complete rate is the fifth-highest mark in the NFL, his 2,441 yards passing are 10th and his 8.1 yards per attempt ranks fourth. Jackson’s 535 rushing yards, meanwhile, lead the league and are nearly 150 more than the next closest quarterback, the Vikings’ Josh Dobbs, and his five rushing touchdowns are the third-highest total in the league.

But the evolution of Jackson, who was the NFL’s unanimous Most Valuable Player in 2019, has reached another level this season beyond just statistics.

Thursday night against the Bengals, the Ravens were facing third-and-7 from Cincinnati’s 11-yard line with 28 seconds remaining in the first half. Baltimore had its receivers stacked in a two-by-two formation against man coverage. At the snap, Jackson looked to his right, where wide receiver Zay Flowers, tight end Isaiah Likely and running back Justice Hill were all well covered. So he looked left, where he had Nelson Agholor breaking over the middle and Rashod Bateman working on the outside against Cameron Taylor-Britt.

Agholor was open but going away from Jackson as he broke the pocket to his left. Jackson’s movement to the left also forced cornerback Mike Hilton to make a choice: play Jackson one-on-one, or the passing lane. He chose the former, moving toward the quarterback and in doing so opened a window in the end zone for Bateman, who cut in, with Jackson flinging a dart for a touchdown.

The score put the Ravens up 21-10 at the half and helped bury the Joe Burrow-less Bengals in a hole they couldn’t get out of.

There were other plays where Jackson’s progressions stood out, too. Earlier on the drive, he found Odell Beckham Jr. on a corner-stop route for 15 yards after his eyes moved Cincinnati corner Chide Awuzie back toward the middle of the field. And earlier in the second, he connected with what appeared to be his third option in Beckham for 29 yards to set up the Ravens’ second touchdown.

Of course, it helps to have playmakers around him.

Flowers is second among rookie receivers in catches (53) and fourth in yards (588). Beckham has started to show signs of his old self the past few weeks. Bateman is healthy and has made some crucial catches. There was also ever-dependable tight end Mark Andrews, until he suffered what is likely a season-ending ankle injury in the first quarter Thursday night (though coach John Harbaugh offered a glimmer of hope Monday).

Then there is the new scheme under offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who has empowered Jackson to have more input and control and opened the playbook up more the more comfortable the quarterback has become.

It took some time and is still a work in progress, but the Ravens have found an identity and rhythm over the past month, scoring 34, 31, 37, 31 and 38 points in their past five games.

“He was a very quick study,” Martin said of Jackson. “He’s a quick learner. He doesn’t need a lot of reps to learn things and he sees the game a certain way. Coming in, the terminology, once we got over that bridge of what we used to call it to what we call it now, things that are different, things that are new, introducing him to those concepts and ideas, it all became his own from that point on.

“We talked about empowering the quarterback as far as protections, as far as being able to change routes. He loved it.”

There’s been a noticeable growth within the walls of the quarterback room as well.

“I’m more vocal than I was before,” Jackson said. “Early on [in my career], I was just wanting to learn the ins and outs of defenses in the NFL. But now, [with] me just seeing them each and every week — different defenses every week — I’ve got a lot more questions. I see certain things, and then I want to just tell Coach Monken, ‘We should try to put this in the game plan’ [and] stuff like that.”

The other quarterbacks can see a difference, too.

Huntley, whose locker is next to Jackson’s and who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Ravens two years after Baltimore drafted Jackson in 2018, says the former Heisman Trophy winner has taken command in meetings and in the huddle.

“He’s just coming into himself, on and off the field, doing what he needs to do to make himself better, putting in the work,” Huntley said.

Johnson, who has played for an NFL-record 14 teams and is in his third stint with the Ravens, sees Jackson for the dynamic playmaker he is but also as someone whose football IQ is high.

“He’s who he’s advertised to be,” Johnson said. “He’s been dominant since he’s gotten in to the league. To me, the proof is in his play. If you question who he is as a player, I question how much you know about football. I don’t know what the public thinks of [Jackson]; I know what I think of [Jackson]. I respect him to the highest.”

Still, Jackson has endured more than a few hiccups this season.

He has fumbled 10 times, losing six of them. He has also thrown five interceptions. And he has been sacked 27 times, which is on pace for the most of any season in his career, after, in many cases, holding onto the ball too long.

But he has also shown his toughness. This season, he has taken a handful of notable hits, including a few earlier this month against the Browns. Then against the Bengals on Thursday, he injured his ankle at the end of the first quarter and was examined in the team’s medical tent.

It was momentarily frightening for a franchise that had already lost Andrews and seen Jackson suffer leg injuries each of the past two seasons. But he emerged with a thumbs-up and didn’t miss a play.

“We all know who he is,” Beckham said of Jackson. “He’s the leader of this team, and everybody feeds off him. So, when we see him come back out, it makes you … whatever you have going on, you feel like you’re hurting, he’s out there, [so] we’ve all got to be out there. It was a big leadership moment by him.”

And perhaps will ultimately lead to his biggest season yet.

Week 12

Ravens at Chargers

Sunday, 8:20 p.m.


Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 4


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