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Trains, highways and backyards: How Lamar Jackson is catching up with Ravens’ offense

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens officials have found creative ways to express their optimism quarterback Lamar Jackson would catch up to the offense after missing the first 10 days of training camp due to a positive test for COVID-19.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman compared it to Jackson trying to chase down a train that had already left the station. Coach John Harbaugh believes it’s like Jackson merging onto a speedy highway.

“I’m ‘in the car’ right now [and] I’m trying to catch up to those guys,” Jackson said, moving his hands in front of him as if he had a steering wheel.

Through Jackson’s first three practices of training camp, the former NFL MVP has shown his speed — scrambling on the field as well as making up for missed time off of it.

Jackson has completed 44 of 67 throws in seven-on-seven and full-team drills, and his completion rate would jump well over 70% if not for the handful of dropped passes. He put a lot of velocity on his throws Monday and showed great touch Tuesday when he went over the top of the defense to hit Sammy Watkins.

But Jackson’s impressive showing has nothing to do with planes, trains or automobiles. It was actually a short walk outside.

During his quarantine, Jackson had some makeshift practices in his backyard, where he worked on his footwork and threw 20-yard passes to his cousins.

“[I was] just trying to fire the ball as much as I can,” Jackson said, “so I can come back and coach doesn’t look at me like, ‘You didn’t do anything. You didn’t try to work.’ But I did. I think I did pretty good.”

Jackson had built plenty of momentum this offseason. His final practice of the spring was his best, and he then had workouts with teammates in Florida and Arizona. Jackson also worked with Adam Dedeaux, a throwing mechanics expert and founder of 3DQB, which has worked with half of the quarterbacks starting in the NFL.

But everything changed for Jackson when he tested positive for the coronavirus on July 27, the day before the start of training camp.

“I was heartbroken,” Jackson said. “Right before camp, it was like — not again. Not right now.”

While the Ravens suited up for their first eight full-team practices of the summer, Jackson could barely stay awake at times. He acknowledged it was hard to attend meetings virtually because the fatigue from COVID-19 caused him to sleep much of the day.

The severity of the symptoms caused the Ravens to temper their expectations for Jackson. But, from his first snap back, Jackson looked as if he had been at camp the whole time. Even though his snaps have been reduced as the Ravens ease him back, Jackson has been throwing deep shots to his favorite target Mark Andrews and running when pass-rushers get too close like he’s done for the previous three seasons.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that hard for him,” Harbaugh said about Jackson catching up to the offense. “He’s already been through most of the offense. He already knows it. He’s played in games for a number of years. He’s been through this. There are some things that we put in there that we’re working on, but I think he’ll merge right in.”

While Jackson returns to the same playcaller (Roman) and quarterbacks coach (James Urban), much around him has changed. There have been injuries to four wide receivers (Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Miles Boykin and Deon Cain) and two starting offensive linemen (guard Kevin Zeitler and center Bradley Bozeman).

For now, Jackson is focused on catching up to his team and making strides in his own game.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Jackson said. “I don’t think anybody is a perfect player, but I’m trying to work on everything; throwing the ball outside, throwing deep passes, throwing intermediate passes, short passes, running a little bit here and there, getting moves out of the pocket — everything.”

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