Jackson zipped the ball to the right flat, where rookie first-round pick Zay Flowers juked out linebacker Roquan Smith. Then Jackson tossed the ball deep downfield to WR Odell Beckham Jr. before hitting TE Mark Andrews underneath.
Entering his sixth NFL season, Jackson has a chance to redefine himself as well as the dual-threat quarterback role. With a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken, and new players such as Flowers and Beckham, Jackson believes he will throw the ball more than ever, which could result in something no one has ever seen before.
Jackson can become the first NFL player to throw for over 4,000 yards after rushing for more than 900 yards in a season.
"I think him throwing the ball [more] is a good thing,” Andrews said. "Obviously, his legs are incredible and special -- unlike anybody else -- but so is his arm.”
While Jackson is known more for spinning around defenders in the open field, he has put up some impressive passing totals. During his 2019 NFL MVP season, he led the league with 36 touchdown passes. Since 2019, he’s the only quarterback to record a perfect passer rating (158.3) in multiple games.
For Jackson, it’s about consistency. Over the last two seasons, he has failed to take the next step as a passer, throwing 33 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.
The Ravens responded this offseason by putting Jackson in the best position to succeed as a passer. Baltimore added two high-profile wide receivers, signing Beckham -- which Jackson requested -- in free agency and drafting Flowers in the first round. The Ravens also parted ways with offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who was known for running the ball, and replacing him with Monken, who is extremely detail-oriented in the passing game.
"[To] catch a few passes from [Jackson] earlier today, he's got a strong arm, [and] it gets up on you fast,” Beckham said recently. "I know he wants to throw the ball. I'll tell you this: I'll take 10 passes over 10 runs all the time, so I'm all for it. If we're going to air it out, that's fine with me. But it's definitely about winning games, so whatever that takes.”
In four seasons under Roman, the Ravens put up some historic numbers running the ball, but they attempted the second-fewest passes in the NFL. As a result, Jackson has never thrown for more than 3,200 yards in a season, and he’s never finished higher than 22nd in passing yards.
Ravens officials declined to estimate how many more passes Jackson will throw in the new offense, saying it will be whatever it takes to win. While no one expects Baltimore to suddenly become a pass-first team, it should be the most balanced attack since Jackson took over as the starting quarterback midway through the 2018 season.
Jackson was so excited about the changes on offense that he suggested earlier this offseason he could throw for 6,000 yards this year, which he felt was overblown.
"I feel like we have the guys to do it, so that's all I was saying,” Jackson said. "I feel like we could throw for 6,000 yards, but that's probably unrealistic. But, we'll see.”
Jackson made it clear what he thinks this new offense will allow him to showcase.
“Less running and more throwing,” he said after his first offseason practice.
Does Jackson believe he won’t run as much this year?
“Absolutely, especially with the receivers we have,” Jackson said.
This is the delicate juggling act the Ravens face. Baltimore’s offense has been at its most dangerous and successful when Jackson sprints past defenders. Jackson’s 4,437 career rushing yards are the most by a quarterback in his first five seasons — 1,230 yards more than the next closest (Cam Newton). The most impressive stat is this: Baltimore is 16-1 when Jackson rushes for 90 or more yards.
But the Ravens also need to protect their sizable investment in Jackson. It was only three months ago when Baltimore gave him $185 million in guaranteed money, which may persuade them to call fewer designed runs and lower his NFL-high average of 12.5 hits per game he’s sustained over his first five seasons.
"There really is no conscious decisions along those lines in a sense that Lamar is a unique player,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on the day Jackson signed his five-year, $260 million deal in April. "He plays -- sometimes we call it 'Lamar ball.' And I tell him all the time: 'You play like you play. You have a unique style because you are so unique.’ So, when he feels like it's time to take off and run, he will.”
The number of designed runs called for Jackson have gradually decreased the last three seasons, from 7.5 per game in 2019 to 6.0 last year. The biggest drop has been Jackson’s scrambles off called pass plays. He didn’t take off as frequently last year, going from averaging 4.2 scrambles per game in 2021 to only 2.0 per game last year.
"I think the more talented you are around your quarterback, the less he has to take on that burden [to run] because you're excited about getting others the football where they can utilize their skill set,” Monken said. "As you get further into your career, as Lamar gets older – as everybody does – you want to take some of that off of the player as best you can.
“But he has a unique trait, a unique skill set. You can't take that completely out of his toolbox because that's a huge weapon for him and for us, is using his feet.”
If the Ravens didn’t realize the heightened expectations on the new offense, they did when they walked onto the field for the first day of training camp.
“I want 50 points per game,” a fan yelled at Monken. “Fifty points."
For Jackson, the pressure has gone from repeatedly answering questions about his contract a year ago to living up to the standard that comes with a deal that averages $52 million per season. Jackson said he doesn’t feel any additional stress, and coaches have noticed a quarterback who is dialed in.
Harbaugh called Jackson a “perfectionist” because he gets upset if he doesn’t get a snap count right or if the read isn’t correct. Monken has been impressed with Jackson’s diligence.
"He wants to be great. He wants to be elite,” Monken said. "I do not see a guy that signed a contract and said, 'OK, I've arrived.’”
The Ravens know they need to become more explosive on offense, and the biggest hole in Jackson’s passing game has been stretching the field. Since 2019, he ranks 24th in passing yards to wide receivers (5,751), 22nd in passing yards outside the numbers (4,359) and 25th in completions to wide receivers over 20 yards (40).
But Jackson hasn’t had much to work with outside of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Jackson’s only 1,000-yard wide receiver who was traded last year. Jackson’s other wide receiver options have been a banged-up Rashod Bateman and older players such as Sammy Watkins, Willie Snead, Demarcus Robinson, Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson.
“All I know is he can throw the ball to all areas of the field,” said Tee Martin, who is in his first season as the Ravens quarterbacks coach after coaching their wide receivers the previous two seasons. "He has touch for the shorter passes, and he has elite arm strength to throw the ball down the field.”
By the end of the first week of training camp, it felt like Jackson had bonded with top wide receiver additions.
Jackson nicknamed Flowers “Joystick” for his shifty moves after the catch. He also expressed confidence in throwing the ball to Beckham, who told Jackson during the offseason to toss the ball in his vicinity and he’ll come down with it.
When Jackson looks at Flowers and Beckham, his only thought is: “Just get them the ball."
"We have the guys that will make stuff happen, get yards after the catch,” Jackson said. "We should see magic happen."