Lamar Jackson didn’t show the razzle-dazzle that made him a Heisman-winning quarterback at Louisville during his NFL preseason debut Thursday night, but he did show the Ravens that they did the right thing in drafting him in the first round — and then choosing to bring him along slowly.
Despite not having the longest Baltimore QB run of the night against the Bears in the Pro Football Hall of Game — that belonged to Josh Woodrum (17 yards) and not Robert Griffin III —Jackson wasted no time in showing off his special athletic ability, both in scrambling (five rushes, 28 yards) and using his mobility to extend plays as a passer.
Playing the whole second half following Griffin and Woodrum, his overall passing numbers were in line with being an overwhelmed rookie (4 for 10, 33 yards, one TD, one INT, three sacks, 42.9 rating).
When Jackson was good, he looked natural working out of the shotgun in the no-huddle. During the scoring drive he led after an initial three-and-out, he connected well on shorter completions. He clicked with a fellow first-round rookie, tight end Hayden Hurst, who will be a key target for him going forward.
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When Jackson was bad, he was skittish in the pocket, holding the ball too long and struggling with his release. The big knock on him, his accuracy, manifested when he threw late across his body to the left toward wideout Chris Moore, resulting in an easy interception for Chicago’s Doran Grant.
Through everything Jackson was trying to get right physically, he was also trying to put together all he has absorbed mentally from offseason practices. He won’t need to look long in the mirror after his rough first game, because he has already admitted to doing that to help with his play-calling challenges.
Unless Jackson had completed every pass and run for 100 yards Thursday, it would have been difficult for him to live up to the massive hype that was building before his first game action.
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At least he didn’t come into the game with the pressure of competing with inactive starter Joe Flacco or, for that matter, Griffin, who wasn’t much better as he tries to hang on as a third quarterback for a team that typically doesn’t carry such a veteran.
The Ravens held back Jackson by not having him try to do much, given that the second half was a matchup of backups and there are four exhibitions remaining. At the same time, they were smart to let him take his lumps while playing an entire half.
Had Jackson gone out and picked up where he left off in college, no one would have fast-tracked him to Canton. Likewise, his harsh reality check against another NFL team doesn’t suddenly eliminate any chance of him replacing Flacco soon.
The Ravens saw much of what they should have expected from Jackson, including a little of his flair for the unexpected. In that sense, his flawed debut was perfect for the purposes of his development.