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Trying to stop Lamar Jackson isn’t easy — neither is blocking for him

Trying to stop Lamar Jackson isn’t easy — neither is blocking for him

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson has excelled this season at keeping opposing defenses on their toes.

The problem is it keeps his teammates in limbo, too.

Jackson is one of the shiftiest players in the NFL, and when he breaks the pocket, there’s no way of knowing what he’ll do. That means there’s no way of knowing what the next step is as an offensive player, either.

“One of the best things about Lamar is how versatile a quarterback he is,” wide receiver Miles Boykin said. “No play is ever dead. We have two plays every time we step out there. If the first play doesn’t work, Lamar is going to find something with his feet or he’s going to find something on a scramble.”

Jackson has 576 yards rushing and three touchdowns so far this season and is on pace for over 1,300 yards rushing on the season. 

Sunday in Seattle, his legs carried the Ravens to a 30-16 win over the Seahawks. And while Seahawk defenders tried their best to slow Jackson down, his teammates did their best to anticipate.

“You just let him do his thing,” guard Marshal Yanda said. “That’s about the easiest way you could say it. Block them as long as we can, if he breaks the pocket and he goes, obviously try to cover him as much as we can down the field.”

As an offensive line, the Ravens' front five must make a determination once Jackson breaks the pocket on what to do. They could go downfield to try to get a step on the defense and risk an illegal man downfield penalty, or stay back and protect Jackson if he decides to set and pass the ball.

Sometimes, though, Jackson makes the decision easy.

“I think if they’re ever in that situation and they feel a breeze going by them, they say, ‘Hey let’s go,’” offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris said with a chuckle. "We better follow that breeze.”

After the original play breaks down, Jackson’s ability to extend sometimes leaves his teammates wondering exactly what he’ll do next.

“Sometimes he’s scrambling, and we’re all out there like, ‘Do we block? Do we try to get open?’” Mark Ingram explained. “You’re trying to be there for him, but he’s just doing crazy stuff.”

When Jackson breaks out of the pocket and the Ravens officially head into a scramble drill, there’s a few set tips that help the rest of the offensive weapons.

Marquise Brown says he has a set responsibility — but can’t share exactly what it is. Willie Snead was a high school quarterback, so he’s at least got some idea of what Jackson wants to do when he breaks the pocket. 

The only thing the Ravens can do is drill it and expect the unexpected when he breaks the pocket, because they certainly don’t want to quell what makes Jackson so special.

“You definitely don’t want to dull that,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “You want to let it happen naturally, let his natural talent take over.”

As a receiver, the main job is to get open. Whatever happens after that is up to Jackson.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do half the time,” Boykin said. “I just have one job, and that’s to get open. If you get open, Lamar is going to find you.”

While the Ravens’ offense might have trouble locating — and deciding — Jackson’s next move, it’s been enough to keep opposing defenses at bay. And Baltimore will take that trade-off every day of the week. 

“We don’t know where Lamar is going to be,” D'Alessandris said. “We have a good idea, but if he’s elusive enough to move, sustain your block and let things happen. I think that’s worked out pretty good for us so far.”

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Former Ravens Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg denies wanting to move Lamar Jackson to wide receiver

Former Ravens Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg denies wanting to move Lamar Jackson to wide receiver

According to a report from former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi, former Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg wanted to move Lamar Jackson to wide receiver. 

Mornhinweg, and the Ravens, claim that’s not true. 

Tuesday morning, Mornhinweg and the Ravens released a statement that claims the conversation Lombardi reported never happened. 

“That didn’t happen,” Mornhinweg responded, according to the release. “Never said that. My thoughts before the draft, and even more when we started working with Lamar, was that this young man was going to be a special quarterback. Very early we saw that along with all of his throwing and escape abilities, he reads the field as well as any young quarterback I ever worked with.”

Mornhinweg, who was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator for three years and with the organization for four, left the organization after last season ended.

The original report from Lombardi, which was on the GM Shuffle podcasts that he hosts, stated that Mornhinweg wanted to move Jackson to wide receiver. 

“Here’s what happened,” Lombardi began. “The first time he (Lamar Jackson) comes in, Marty Mornhinweg — remember, we’re building the team around him — Marty says to the coaches, this is fact, ‘When are we gonna move him to receiver?’”

Lombardi was a scout for the 49ers and Browns before working for the Eagles, Raiders, Browns (for a second time) and the Patriots. He was the general manager and VP of the Browns in 2013-14. He currently works for The Athletic.

“Organizationally, we were on the same page with Lamar, and I thought Ozzie (Newsome) and Eric (DeCosta) did a great job to take him where we did,” coach John Harbaugh added in the release. “Marty was excited from the beginning to coach Lamar and was instrumental in helping him progress through his rookie season.”

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Ravens don't have to worry about Rob Gronkowski returning for the NFL Playoffs

Ravens don't have to worry about Rob Gronkowski returning for the NFL Playoffs

Sitting atop the AFC North and East divisions at 8-2 and 9-1 respectively, the Ravens and Patriots could face each other again in January for either the divisional round or AFC championship.

One thing is for sure -- even if Baltimore has to face the Patriots in Foxborough, the Ravens will not have to worry about crafting a game plan for retired tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The five-time Pro Bowl receiver is guaranteed to be in Miami for Super Bowl LIV, but not to play football -- instead, throwing a party off the field that he calls Gronk Beach.

Gronk told ESPN that a return to playing for the NFL is "always an option in the back of my head. It's not like I'm not staying in shape and not doing anything."

"I wouldn't say 'never coming back,'" Gronk told ESPN after announcing his Gronk Beach festival, that includes performances by Diplo, Kaskade, Rick Ross and Flo Rida. "I'm feeling good, but you know, one year off could possibly be the case. Or maybe two years off, man."

Baltimore already bloodied New England 37-20, handing the Pats their first and only loss of the season thus far when they visited M&T Bank Stadium in Week 9, but both teams should almost certainly anticipate a postseason meeting. Arguably the greatest tight end in league history, Gronk knows his team could use his talents again.

"With the offense, they're finding ways to make it work like they've always done, putting guys in the right situation to make plays," Gronkowski told ESPN about watching the Patriots games closely this season. "But man, they're missing some guy who is 6-6, 260 [pounds]," referencing himself.

Baltimore, you're in the clear this year. But that's all Gronk can guarantee.

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