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Could Ravens Use Lamar Jackson In A Role Other Than QB?

May 14, 2018
I know you're stunned, but my column this week is about … Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson. 

My idea for this week's column was to re-visit my opinion that Jackson should be the starting quarterback this season and address some of the dissenting responses I received. And while I assure you I received many, many responses; few of them were arguments I hadn't already addressed in my initial column.  

But I did get one message last week that intrigued me a bit, and, admittedly, I hadn't addressed fully. 

Glenn Clark Radio listener Matt in Perry Hall, Md., messaged me to say, "Glenn, I understand your point that the Ravens can't waste a first-round pick on a player who sits on the bench for a couple of years. But in an ideal world, Flacco plays this season and plays well enough that the Ravens want to keep him around to give them their best chance at winning a Super Bowl. So what if in the next couple of years, instead of forcing him into being the starting quarterback, the Ravens instead use Jackson as sort of a 'wild card' type of player? What if they line him up in the backfield, at receiver or even under center at times? He'd be seeing the field and helping as an offensive weapon, so it wouldn't be a wasted pick. And the team could still plan on making him their quarterback whenever they move on from Flacco. Seems like a best-case scenario to me."

And to some extent, Matt is right. That would be a potential best-case scenario. The question is whether or not it's a realistic scenario. And it's a question that perhaps we don't want to ask that loudly because of the brush back former NFL general manager Bill Polian received when he suggested Jackson was not really an NFL quarterback but more suited for wide receiver earlier this year. 

This, to be fair, is a different question. This hypothetical doesn't dismiss Jackson's ability to play quarterback but instead considers whether there's another way to use him until he becomes an NFL quarterback. It's a fair consideration. 

So what do we know about the answer to this? Not much. 

In Jackson's introductory news conference April 27, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was asked about this concept. He couldn't have given more of a non-answer. The question was phrased like this: 

"You established that Joe Flacco is your starter, but you can't leave a guy this talented guy on the bench for a whole season. How do you get Lamar Jackson involved immediately?"

And Mornhinweg's answer was so non-committal he might want to consider running for public office. After first joking "next question," he went on:

"We'll see. With Lamar … we talked about it just briefly on his visit about how we would go about these things," Mornhinweg  said. "So [quarterbacks coach] James [Urban] and myself and [head coach] John [Harbaugh] plan together, pre-practice, all those things. … it's going to be important. As far as the future, we'll see what happens there. Joe's the quarterback of this football team. Lamar is going to develop all those things. So we'll see what happens."

What the hell does any of that even mean? That's such an incredible word salad I feel like I might be able to order it at Sweetgreen the next time I'm in Harbor East. But a follow up was asked that certainly seems relevant to the topic. 

"How much did it bother you when teams were talking about Jackson working out at wide and not quarterback? How much did that rub you the wrong way?"

Sadly, Mornhinweg's answer was only slightly clearer:

"As far as a different position? I think that's really a positive for Lamar," Mornhinweg said. "I don't want to get into too much detail. I certainly think he's so talented [that] he could do a lot of different things, in athletics in general. [He's] a talented, talented guy -- but he's a quarterback. Done. That's sort of the way I viewed it. I think that's the way [Jackson] views it." 

That particular answer starts with a suggestion that perhaps lining up elsewhere would be a possibility for the former Heisman Trophy winner but later spins into more of a dismissal. So … maybe? 

Much was made of Harbaugh's "laboratory" comments during the team's rookie camp, but in full context even those don't make this clear. 

Question: "You have made clear that Flacco is your quarterback for 2018. How do you go through the process of figuring out other ways that Jackson's talent can help you on the field?

Answer: "You do it in practice. We do it in the laboratory," Harbaugh said. "Obviously, we've had coaches who have had a lot of experience with that, so that's helpful to us. We do it on the practice field. We ran a lot of stuff out here today you guys probably saw. We're going to always try to get our players making plays for us, and Lamar is a guy that can help us win games."

So ... maybe? 

Here's a best guess as to why getting an answer to this question is difficult. My best guess? It's a sensitive subject, even with Jackson. 

A league source recently told me that during the lead up to the NFL Draft, Jackson's camp was unreceptive to discussing the possibility of the quarterback playing a role similar to the "Slash" role former Steelers quarterback (and later former Ravens backup) Kordell Stewart played in 1995 and 1996 before taking over as the team's full-time starter. 

That's not particularly surprising. Famously, Jackson was once lined up as a punt returner during practice at Louisville and his mom (who now essentially works as his agent) called the coaching staff to let them know that lining him up anywhere but quarterback was unacceptable (in fact, former Louisville assistant coach Lamar Thomas said in a Glenn Clark Radio interview May 2 that the call came in even before the team was off the practice field that day). 

So is this a possibility? The evidence we have would seem to suggest it's unlikely. But if the Ravens truly are going to play Flacco all season, it would seem as though they'd want to try to convince Jackson (and his camp) otherwise. 

In the meantime, The MMQB's Albert Breer says the team believes it can "modernize the scheme in a way that, they hope, will benefit both Flacco and Jackson." And considering how good the Ravens have been offensively with a scheme specifically tailored to one quarterback, how could we possibility doubt their ability to put something together that best benefits two (with diametrically opposite skill sets)?

This is definitely a better idea than just ripping the band-aid off and playing Jackson to start the season.

Well, see you next week for Week 4 of "As The Quarterback Turns." 

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox