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Asa Jackson thriving in different role with Ravens

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Asa Jackson thriving in different role with Ravens

Asa Jackson's NFL career has had its share of detours, but he appears to be back on course with the Ravens once again.

Jackson's role in 2015 isn't quite what he envisioned, but after facing two lengthy suspensions earlier in his career, being cut this summer, signing elsewhere, cut again, and then rejoining the Ravens via the practice squad, Jackson said he's grateful to be back with the organization that took "a 5-10 kid from Sacramento, California, 180 pounds, and made my dream come true, drafting me four years ago."

When training camp began in July, Jackson was one of the favorites to land the return specialist job. But by the end of camp, Jackson not only hadn't won that job, he hadn't won any job; after struggling at cornerback and with fumbles as a returner, Jackson was among the final cuts when the roster was trimmed to 53 players.

Jackson briefly joined the New York Giants, but he was cut two days later and landed back on the Ravens practice squad.

After being promoted to the active roster Oct.13, Jackson has evolved into a key special teams player, just not in the manner he expected.

With Jeremy Ross holding down the punt return job and Raheem Mostert handling kick returns last week, Jackson has been called on to bring pressure on kickers. And he's responded, with two blocked kicks in the past two weeks. He blocked a punt at Arizona and then exploded off the edge to block an extra-point try by the Chargers.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said this week that Jackson is "anxious to be the returner again, but in the meantime, he’s doing everything else at a very high level. ... While he’s not the returner, he’s making the most of every opportunity he has in other areas, and I’m really excited about Asa in that regard.”

Jackson admitted he had some "mixed feelings" after being let go by the Ravens at the end of training camp. This was, after all, the organization that drafted the undersized Jackson out of Cal-Poly in the fifth round in 2012, then stuck with him through two suspensions for violations of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He was suspended for the final four games of the 2012 season  and then the first eight games of the 2013 season.  

"I just kept faith," he said. "That's something that over the last two or three years I've really been realizing. Just keeping faith, and keep moving forward, and not worrying about the things I can't control."

Jackson said seeing Steve Smith go down with an Achilles injury also added perspective during this turbulent season.

"You can be a 16-year vet and one play and it could be over," Jackson said. "So taking that to heart, when I have gotten my opportunity, (I'm) really trying to take full, 100 percent advantage of it.

"This experience of this season has really taught me a lot in terms of being mentally tough, and just that this game really is a blessing, and I should play it like that every single play. That's what I'm trying to do."

MORE RAVENS: Rushing numbers dropping apace with Ravens record

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Lamar Jackson's dual-threat dominance earns him another record-setting award

Lamar Jackson's dual-threat dominance earns him another record-setting award

Another week, another Lamar Jackson performance for the ages.

The second-year quarterback has already set numerous records in Baltimore, just 13 starts into his professional career.

Most of his record-book entries have come thanks to his legs. The QB is a prodigious rusher, one of the most talented running signal-callers in NFL history.

That talent helped earn him more honors after his whopping 152 rushing yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6.

Jackson got started on the ground early, racking up 111 rushing yards in the first half alone. He became just the third quarterback in the modern era to finish with more than 150 rushing yards, and he was rewarded with the FedEx Ground Player of the Week award.

Jackson was the first quarterback in the 17-year history of the award to even be nominated, and now he becomes the first at his position to win it.

Of course, it hasn’t just been on the ground where Jackson has impressed.

He kicked off his 2019 with a bang, throwing for 324 yards and 5 touchdowns on just 20 pass attempts against the woeful Dolphins in Week 1. For his efforts, Jackson was named the Air Player of the Week.

Jackson becomes, you guessed it, the first player in NFL history to win both the Air and Ground versions of the award in the same season, and he managed it just five weeks apart.

He really is one of the most gifted, unique athletes in NFL history. As the Ravens’ tweet says, he is “one of a kind.”

At this rate, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t break a few more barriers the rest of this season and beyond.

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‘It’s like facing Steph Curry’: Ravens hope to slow down MVP candidate Russell Wilson

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‘It’s like facing Steph Curry’: Ravens hope to slow down MVP candidate Russell Wilson

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If there’s one person in the Ravens locker room who knows Russell Wilson, it’s Earl Thomas. 

Thomas, who spent nine years in Seattle before he came to Baltimore this past offseason, had practiced against Wilson every day since he entered the league in 2012. 

Now, he’ll be one of the central figures on defense as Baltimore heads to Seattle to face Wilson and the Seahawks. And this year, Wilson has been better than ever. 

“Everything is predicated off the run game, and we also know that Russell can extend plays,” Thomas said. “That's when he kind of works his magic — when he plays backyard football. And his receivers do a great job of just melding with him and creating space, boxing guys out and creating leverages and coming up with big catches."

Through just six games, Wilson has thrown for 1,704 yards — a 4,544 yard pace — and 14 passing touchdowns with no interceptions. He’s also rushed for 151 yards and has three rushing scores. He’s also completing 72.5 percent of his passes. 

Despite being in an offense that runs the ball about 50 percent of the time, Wilson has excelled. Specifically, he’s been nearly untouchable outside the pocket. 

And when he’s under pressure and has to escape, he’s one of the league’s best. 

“It’s just like all the other quarterbacks we’ve played before,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “You can say, ‘Keep him in the pocket.’ There’s times you think you have him in the pocket and he shakes you and he gets out of the pocket. He’s extending plays better than he ever has.”

The Ravens, who blitz as much as anyone in the NFL, will have to make the decision to try and contain Wilson in the pocket where he can pick apart the Ravens defense, or sit back and defend against the pass. Either way, there’s no good option.

“It's sort of like playing against Steph Curry in basketball, if you will,” Martindale said. “You can pick him halfcourt and he's going to try to drive by you or you can slack off and he's going to pull up and hit a three." 

The Ravens have their own, different, version of Wilson in Lamar Jackson, who the Ravens are hoping can simulate Wilson’s ability. 

But there are only a select number of players in the league that can do what Jackson and Wilson can do with a football in their hands.

"I think he's the only guy that I've seen do it pretty effortlessly, like Lamar does,” Marlon Humphrey said. “We always say we don't want to play Lamar, so I guess we're kind of playing a polished-up, couple-years-down-the-line Lamar. So, we definitely better get ready, because he definitely can do it all."

Against Wilson, the Ravens will have one of the toughest tasks in the NFL this season. Through six weeks, there hasn’t been a team that’s been able to slow him down. 

“Defensively, I'm sitting there watching Lamar, and I'm like, 'Oh, wow,'” Humphrey said. “So, I'm hoping that's not happening when I'm out there on defense with him (Wilson). But Russell, he really can get it done. I'm not really saying I'm a fan, but he's Russell Wilson. He’s a pretty big deal.”

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