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The Baltimore Ravens are prepping their offense so Lamar Jackson can make some noise this fall.
These preparations don’t automatically entail Joe Flacco’s demise as the team’s franchise quarterback, but the Ravens will find ways to get the rookie involved. One sentiment from minicamp should strike fear into all Baltimore’s future opponents.
When asked what stood out during the year’s first practice, one Ravens staffer told The MMQB’s Albert Breer, “Lamar’s speed. Wow.”
Quarterback succession plays are often messy. Ben Roethlisberger’s recent comments and Joe Flacco’s usual stoicism highlighted the conundrums organizations face: trying to prepare for the future without upsetting the team’s starting quarterback.
The Ravens present the most intriguing situation since Flacco has been a mediocre to below-average quarterback the past four seasons and because general manager Ozzie Newsome decided to trade up for the most exciting player in this year’s draft class.
Quarterback life drives the NFL news cycle.
The Cleveland Browns are making plans to tailor their offense around Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield’s similar skill sets. The New York Giants took the opposite approach by leaning heavily on their 37-year-old quarterback. The Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, know Dak Prescott is well on his way to becoming the league’s highest-paid signal-caller.
Also, roles for Washington Redskins running back Derrius Guice and three rookie offensive tackles are being decided.
Jackson’s dynamism already has those in Baltimore excited, though, and rightly so.
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Jackson’s mere presence in the lineup will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night, even if he’s relegated to a small package of plays.
Baltimore’s coaching staff understands the fine line it must walk regarding the quarterback’s overall development while still utilizing his extraordinary athleticism, raw speed and ample arm strength.
John Harbaugh and Co. are taking a Victor Frankenstein-like approach to building a role for the rookie.
“We do it in the laboratory,” Harbaugh said, per Ryan Mink of the team’s official site. “We do it on the practice field. We ran a lot of stuff out here…you guys probably saw. We’re going to always try to get our players making plays for us, and Lamar is a guy who can help us win games.”
Jackson ravaged the collegiate ranks with 9,043 career passing yards, 4,132 rushing yards and 119 total touchdowns. A package of plays for the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner should extend beyond the typical zone-read approach.
“They want me on the field to utilize my talent and be a quarterback,” Jackson said, per Mink. “So it’s cool with me.”
Rest easy, Ravens fans. Baltimore plans to use Jackson, and the offense should be far more potent and unpredictable after ranking 27th overall last season.
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The Cleveland Browns are short on quarterbacks. No, wait, that description fits previous incarnations of the team. This Browns staff is quite excited about two short quarterbacks.
The Baker Mayfield-Tyrod Taylor combination is arguably the franchise’s most talented since Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb led the team to its last playoff appearance in 2002.
Both lack ideal height, though, and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley will tailor his offense to highlight each quarterback’s strengths while downplaying their stature.
“The offense is going to be very similar,” NFL Network’s Steve Wyche reported after speaking with head coach Hue Jackson. “In the passing game, they’re going to have a deeper pocket setup. Both of the quarterbacks are about 6’1”, and they said the way they can create passing lanes without a whole lot of schematic things is just have a deeper drop.
“It’s something Mayfield did well at Oklahoma, and they think should translate well to the Browns.”
Jackson, meanwhile, reaffirmed Taylor is the Browns’ starting quarterback and “that won’t change,” according to the Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
Concern does arise with deeper drops. They will make protection more difficult for both offensive tackles. How quickly and efficiently the Browns’ quarterbacks release the ball will have a profound effect on any success the offense experiences.
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The New York Giants either made an inspired choice or monumental blunder by selecting running back Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick in April’s draft.
The decision came down to how the team felt about 37-year-old quarterback Eli Manning, and new head coach Pat Shurmur is fully invested in the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller.
“No, I didn’t see the age,” Shurmur said after reviewing Manning’s 2017 performance, per Breer. “There’s no substitute for experience, and he’s got it. So no, the age doesn’t bother me.”
Manning’s numbers say otherwise. The aging quarterback hit four-year lows in completion percentage, passing yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns and quarterback rating. But Shurmur stated his signal-caller’s case:
“When you have a quarterback that’s won as much as Eli, that played through a year like last year, the way to get him back to where he needs to be, we need to block them better, and then the best friend for the quarterback is the running back, where you turn around, hand the ball off and gain yards. It all goes hand in hand. Play action’s way more believable.”
The Minnesota Vikings’ 501 carries ranked second-last season with Shurmur calling the play. Barkley can expect a heavy load to help Manning.
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The Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan became the NFL’s highest-paid player after signing a five-year, $150 million contract extension earlier in May.
Quarterbacks are waiting in line to usurp Ryan’s title, and Dak Prescott’s time is coming.
“You know, at that position, it kind of is what it is,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Wednesday, per the Dallas Morning News‘ Kate Hairopoulos. Jones continued:
“I know Dak is going to have a great year this year. I hope it’s up there. It’s going to be as he deserves. He was a fourth-round pick. No one deserves to get paid fairly more than he does. We all see what some of the other guys who aren’t [Green Bay great] Aaron Rodgers, who aren’t Matt Ryan [are earning]. He’s going to do well.
“We certainly know that’s going to happen. We’ve got that planned in our budgeting for the salary cap. And I just want Dak to go out there and be the MVP this year of the NFL, that’s what I want. And we’ll deal with that.“
Jones clearly hedged his praise in an indirect attempt to temper expectations before the two sides reach the negotiating table next offseason.
Prescott regressed after winning the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Anything less than an MVP-caliber season, and the Cowboys can argue Prescott’s value doesn’t quite reach Ryan or Rodgers’ level.
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How could anyone forget Adrian Peterson’s time with the New Orleans Saints?
After all, the future Hall of Fame running back played four games for the Saints and averaged 3.0 yards per carry before being released.
The inevitable decline began, but Peterson hasn’t noticed.
“I’m healthy, and I’m ready to roll,” Peterson told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. “If you want someone to help you win a championship and be productive—be very productive—you know how to contact me.”
The 33-year-old back didn’t fare much better once he signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Peterson managed 448 yards and averaged 3.5 yards per carry in the desert before landing on injured reserve with a neck injury.
The Saints, meanwhile, must deal with Mark Ingram’s suspension for the first four games of the 2018 campaign because of a violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Peterson said he would “definitely be open” to a return.
“For whatever reason, it just didn’t work out [in New Orleans], but when I got my shot in Arizona, I showed what I was able to do,” the seven-time Pro Bowl performer said. “I know once I get back out there, I’ll be blessed with a healthy season and show people I’m still the best in the league.”
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Derrius Guice’s first-round grade didn’t survive the league’s predraft evaluation, and the talented running back tumbled to the Washington Redskins with the 59th overall pick.
Immaturity and unreported incidents supposedly caused the free fall. How much is true can be considered moot since he’s in Washington.
The first-year runner will fill an immediate hole in Jay Gruden’s offense.
“He has some improvement to do in the pass pro, without a doubt, and I think he’ll be the first one to tell you,” the head coach said, per ESPN.com’s John Keim. Gruden continued:
“That’s something that sometimes in college, with only 20 hours of practice per week, some of the fundamentals as far as pass blocking sometimes gets swept by. He’s more of a first-, second-down banger. But I’ve seen him at his pro day catch the football. He can catch the football fine, but really, our role for him is quite easy to see. It’s first, second down.“
Guice earned the designation of being the best between-the-tackles runner in this year’s class. He isn’t needed on third down, either, because Chris Thompson is special in said role. Thompson caught 39 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns last season before suffering a fractured fibula.
These complementary pieces should boost Washington’s 28th-ranked rushing attack.
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The 2018 offensive class lacked quality prospects and depth. Yet multiple rookies could be starting at left tackle this fall.
The Oakland Raiders traded down and selected Kolton Miller with the 15th overall pick. Donald Penn’s presence on the roster may push Miller to right tackle or the Raiders could favor youth and athleticism over experience.
“That’s where he has recently played,” head coach Jon Gruden said at rookie minicamp, per ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez. “We like him at left tackle. We think he’s a prototype left tackle. He can bend, he’s got the length that you’re looking for and he’s a sharp kid…that doesn’t mean that’s where they’re going to end up, though.”
Miller fits the mold of an NFL left tackle. Isaiah Wynn and Austin Corbett don’t. Although both may be protecting their respective quarterbacks’ blind sides this fall.
New England Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia didn’t mince his words regarding Wynn’s potential.
“He’s played left tackle in the best conference, [the SEC], in America,” Scarnecchia said, per ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss. “Played it pretty good. We’re going to take a look at it and see how it goes.”
The Browns plan to do the same with rookie lineman Corbett.
“You will see [Corbett] out there [at left tackle],” head coach Hue Jackson said, per Cleveland.com’s Dan Labbe. “There is no question he will be out there, but I think you will see him moved around too.”
If they falter, their teams will find another spot for them. But left tackle is too important not to start there.
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The Dallas Cowboys haven’t given up on defensive end Randy Gregory.
Gregory could be available for the 2018 campaign after missing all of last season because of violating the league’s substance abuse policy for the third time. The 25-year-old defender is expected to apply for reinstatement, according to the Dallas Morning News‘ Kate Hairopoulos and Jori Epstein.
“He’s being very diligent in preparing his information and preparing his application,” owner Jerry Jones said Wednesday. “I have been proud of Randy during this offseason. I’m very aware of how hard he’s working to get back in the league and get back on the field.”
Dallas took a chance on Gregory in the second round of the 2015 draft because his attributes make him perfectly suited for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s scheme.
Being away from the game can be difficult, though. Relapses can easily occur when a professional athlete lives outside of team structure because of a lack of support.
“It’s best he’s back in the locker room, he’s back around us,” fellow defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said. “I think it will be good for him and good for us.”
The 45-day window between application and a potential ruling places Gregory on the field for Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, California. His presence will provide depth behind Demarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton and Kony Ealy.