What Lamar Jackson is missing by not attending the Ravens' OTAs

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens have downplayed quarterback Lamar Jackson’s absence from the start of organized team activities.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Jackson isn’t the team’s first high-profile player to miss voluntary workouts, and team president Sashi Brown said the Ravens are “not going to make a big deal out of this.”

“Voluntary does mean voluntary,” Brown told WBAL Radio in Baltimore. “Lamar’s been out working this offseason [away from the facility] … so no, I don’t think [there’s] any reason for alarm.”

The Ravens didn’t provide a reason for Jackson’s absence, saying it was up to the former NFL MVP to explain. Jackson hasn’t spoken to reporters since Jan. 10, but did tweet Tuesday: “Can’t wait to get back.”

Jackson’s absence can’t help the Ravens, who are taking their initial steps in trying to rebound from their first last-place finish in the AFC North since 2007. Jackson is coming off a campaign in which he threw a career-worst 13 interceptions and missed a career-high 17 practices during the regular season due to injury and illness.

Here is what Jackson is missing by not attending OTAs:

Helping one of the NFL’s youngest wide receiver groups: The Ravens don’t have a wide receiver with more than 10 career starts after trading Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and not re-signing Sammy Watkins. Rashod Bateman is considered the No. 1 wide receiver entering his second season, and Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace are battling for the other spots on the depth chart. While Jackson has had private throwing sessions with Bateman and Proche, his last full practice with the team was Dec. 10. Improving Jackson’s rapport with these relatively inexperienced targets is one of the top priorities. Jackson ranked 19th last season with a 74.5 total QBR when throwing to wide receivers.

Getting in sync with his center: The quarterback-center exchange is more important to the Ravens than any other team in the NFL because Baltimore was under center an NFL-low 5.1% of the time last season. The Ravens’ coaches and players have spoken about how the timing and placement of the snaps out of the pistol formation are critical to the rhythm of the offense, especially on the run-pass option plays. It’s going to take time to get this type of precision down with rookie center Tyler Linderbaum, the No. 25 overall pick in this year’s draft. Linderbaum said he’s comfortable with shotgun snaps but acknowledged they weren’t routine at Iowa. This will be a point of emphasis because Baltimore had 13 aborted snaps over the past five years, the fourth-most in the league.

Laying a foundation for an offense that made too many mistakes last season: Baltimore was its own worst enemy at times because of pre-snap penalties. The Ravens were called for delay of game eight times, the most in Harbaugh’s 14 seasons. This is in addition to the 18 false-start penalties and the many times when players didn’t line up correctly. The Ravens won’t ramp up to full-team reps and game situations until minicamp and training camp, but this is the time of the year when coaches and players say they establish the groundwork for the offense.

Establishing team bonding: When Jackson last spoke, he talked about how one of his goals was to increase team chemistry. He said in January the Ravens “had everything else but we didn’t have that team bonding coming out of the building. … I feel like we need to bond more, and it will take a toll over the season.” That’s why it was surprising that Jackson was not present when the Ravens got together as a team for the first time this offseason. Jackson tweeted he can’t wait to get back (with purple heart and rocket emojis), but it’s not clear when he will return.