Former NFL quarterback Kordell Stewart, who earned the nickname "Slash" as a versatile offensive weapon with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1995-2002, believes Lamar Jackson should be developed strictly as a quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens rather than being used in packages that incorporate him in other roles.
"Allow him to get immersed into the playbook as a quarterback," Stewart said on
Glenn Clark Radio
May 22. "We know his talents are off the chart, better than all the receivers that are on the roster -- let's just be real -- all the running backs on the roster, all the [defensive backs] on the roster. He's just that fast and that athletic. He's that athletic, but let him get immersed into the playbook as a quarterback."
Stewart, who was drafted by the Steelers out of the University of Colorado in 1995, was used in special packages during his first two years in the NFL, but Stewart said unique circumstances led to that situation. Stewart recalled how starting quarterback Neil O'Donnell battled injuries during the 1995 season, as did receivers Charles Johnson, Ernie Mills and Johnnie Barnes. Defensive back Rod Woodson had knee surgery that season, as well.
The Steelers didn't ask Stewart, who said he was "hyper-sensitive" about playing positions other than quarterback, about helping out as a playmaker for the offense. It was Stewart, who was Pittsburgh's fourth-string quarterback or fourth on Pittsburgh's quarterback depth chart then Pittsburgh's fourth-string quarterback, who volunteered to the Bill Cowher-led coaching staff that he'd be interested in doing so in light of the team's injuries, even if he just represented a decoy on certain plays.
The Steelers, who had limped to a 3-4 start in 1995, first used Stewart during a 24-7 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the victory kicked off an eight-game winning streak. Stewart's first touchdown pass came two weeks later during a 20-3 win against the Browns in Cleveland.
"I get the snap to throw the ball to the receivers in the back of the end zone; I reverse field, throw it to Ernie Mills in the back of the end zone, Slash is born," Stewart said. "Before you know it, they gave me some package plays."
Stewart said he'd be fine with the Ravens giving Jackson similar opportunities if the rookie volunteers the idea, but he is more interested in seeing Jackson develop as a quarterback and the Ravens fit an offense to the former Louisville star's unique skill-set. Stewart said the Ravens shouldn't create special packages for Jackson, pointing out that the team needs to be "conscious of the sensitivity of asking this young man to do something else."
The 6-foot-3 Jackson won the Heisman Trophy at Louisville in 2016, throwing for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns while running for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns. Jackson became a more efficient passer in 2017 -- completing 59.1 percent of his throws after completing 56.2 percent during his Heisman-winning season -- while maintaining his difference-making running ability.
Stewart said it's important not to change who Jackson is as a quarterback, and the Ravens might be a good fit for that. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has worked with successful mobile quarterbacks in the past, including Steve Young, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. Assistant head coach Greg Roman has worked with Colin Kaepernick, and quarterbacks coach James Urban has worked with Vick.
"We need to get more coaches in the National Football League that understand the mobile quarterback and not try to change it to point where he just becomes a pocket passer, because that happened with Donovan McNabb in the latter part of his career. He wanted to prove a point that he was a pocket passer, and it ended up hurting him more than helping him because what made him special were his feet," Stewart said.
Jackson, 21, said during his introductory press conference with the Baltimore media that, even though he declined to run for teams ahead of the draft, he's run the 40-yard dash in a 4.34 seconds -- with turf toe. That speed was
on display at Louisville
"You know if he scrambles and makes plays, he's going to give you plays downfield to where if the receivers are blocking, he might score ...," Stewart said of Jackson. "We've watched it before. It's nothing new. So let him learn the playbook as a quarterback, and then when he gets in, play to his strengths, not give him package plays."