BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson’s reasons for being at the Ravens’ voluntary organized team activities Wednesday were simple.
“Just wanted to learn the new offense and get with my guys,” he said, adding that he plans to attend the other sessions that will take place over the next three weeks in Owings Mills. He found humor in the fervor over when or if his arrival would take place during the voluntary portion of the offseason.
Participation in the practices, after all, isn’t required and not every player was there, though attendance was high for Wednesday’s portion that was open to the media.
But the appearance of Jackson, who arrived ahead of Tuesday’s practice, also marked an important step forward for the 26-year-old quarterback and the organization. It was his first time participating in football activities with the team since he suffered a knee injury against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 4 and was his first appearance at the team’s facility since signing a five-year extension May 4 that reportedly makes him the highest paid quarterback in the NFL at $52 million a year.
“It’s good to have Lamar back,” center Tyler Linderbaum said. “To be able to work with him in the OTAs, a lot of guys are happy about that.”
It was also a much different scene than a year ago.
Last year, Jackson skipped all of the team’s voluntary offseason practices for the first time in his career. The situation was more complex and tense then — the tug of war on his contract extension was about to drag into its second year, and he had a familiar offensive coordinator in Greg Roman.
Now, Jackson has a new offense to learn under coordinator Todd Monken, along with a few new players to acclimate to, including receivers Nelson Agholor, rookie Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr. (though Beckham wasn’t present as he continues to work out on his own). He’s also, notably, the $260 million face of the franchise through the 2027 season, and with that comes a certain level of accountability.
So at 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Jackson came jogging onto the practice field, and though he didn’t participate in any of the 11-on-11 “live” contact sessions, the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player did some work.
First, Jackson threw with the rest of the quarterbacks in drills. Then, he ran some plays, at one point connecting with Agholor on a pretty 35-yard corner route.
It’s early, but Jackson has liked what he has seen from Monken, particularly in terms of flexibility, a cadre of talented receivers that includes the return of a healthy Rashod Bateman, who had season-ending foot surgery in November, and what seems like will be less of a need for him to bail out the offense with his legs.
“Coach is basically giving us keys to the offense,” Jackson said. “I’m loving it. ... Just being able to throw the ball down the field. Running can only take you so far. I feel like with this new era of teams and offenses in the league, I feel like we need that, and coach Todd Monken, what I’m seeing in this offense so far, it’s tremendous.
“You can change things when you want to. You see the defense, and it’s not looking right to you — see some guy blitzing — you might want your receiver to do something different. Coach giving you the free will to do whatever you want to.”
In other words, less running, more throwing and dynamic play-calling.
That should help Jackson stay upright — over the past two seasons, he has missed 11 games because of injuries. It also could lead to a more explosive offense that will help the Ravens keep pace in a loaded AFC, including the division rival Cincinnati Bengals.
Though Georgia was a run-heavy team under Monken, the Bulldogs also had one of college football’s most prolific passing attacks on their way to winning back-to-back national championships.
But how the new offense will look and how Jackson will be utilized is largely a topic for another day, with a mandatory three-day minicamp still a few weeks away and training camp not until the end of July.
Coach John Harbaugh and others were just happy to see their star quarterback on the field.
“I’m happy with the numbers. We’ve got a lot of guys here,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s important. I’m a coach. I want everybody here. I want every player here all the time, doing everything they can.”
Jackson, who said he plans to be more of a vocal leader this season, is equally glad to have finally put two years of contract talks behind him and return to where he’s always been most comfortable.
“It’s much funner talking about football and nothing else,” he said.