Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti held a conference call with season-ticket holders May 29, and in four words he succinctly summarized the long-term vision of his organization: "Everything falls to Lamar."
Bisciotti made clear that, like many fans, he understands the Ravens' prospects for this year -- and perhaps the next few years -- are tied to the development of second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, a dynamic playmaker whose game-changing running ability is indisputable but whose passing ability remains a work in progress.
Speaking at what amounted to this year's "State of the Ravens" address during an hourlong session with the fans, Bisciotti also addressed the dramatic turnover on the league's No. 1-rated defense, but he expressed confidence in young players who now must move into more prominent roles.
"Everything falls to Lamar"
Bisciotti echoed the sentiment that has been coming from others at the Castle for the past four months: that the development of Jackson is vital to the Ravens' future, and that the Ravens are confident in Jackson's ability to deliver.
"Everything falls to Lamar," Bisciotti said. "We believe in him. We believe he's going to be great. He desires to be great, and so we will continue to build the team around his strengths, and he'll continue to work on his weaknesses."
Jackson, the former Heisman Trophy winner whom the Ravens traded back into the first round to draft last year at No. 32 overall, took over for an injured Joe Flacco in midseason last year and led the Ravens to a 6-1 record over the final seven games as they won the AFC North title.
Leading a revamped, run-first offense unveiled once Jackson became the starter, Jackson carried a team-high 147 times -- the most ever by an NFL quarterback -- and his running ability -- and his threat as a runner, especially outside -- opened up inside running lanes for power back Gus Edwards.
Jackson, though, completed just 58.2 percent of his passes (99-of-170), which ranked 37th among quarterbacks with at least 100 passes. Jackson spent much of the offseason working with personal quarterbacks coach Joshua Harris, stressing his mechanics and accuracy.
Bisciotti echoed head coach John Harbaugh's offseason statements that last year's offense was last year, and this coming year, the Ravens' rebuilt offense of new coordinator Greg Roman is designed to look somewhat different.
"I think you'll be pleasantly surprised that Lamar is not going to be running 20 times a game," Bisciotti said. "That's not what this offense is about."
That's not to say the running game won't be prominent, and Roman's past offenses in San Francisco and Buffalo have consistently ranked among the best in the league on the ground. Bisciotti noted that in addition to Edwards, the Ravens have added former Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram and speedy rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill to the backfield.
"We are very diverse," Bisciotti said. "We've got a lot of weapons, a lot of speed. ... It's just going to make Lamar that much better."
Defensive losses "a shock to our system," but confident in replacements
Bisciotti acknowledged some surprise that the Ravens' losses on defense were as drastic as they were, with the Ravens essentially losing five starters in Pro Bowl linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, pass-rushing linebacker Za'Darius Smith, Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle and defensive end Brent Urban.
Many of those moves were expected, but Bisciotti said the departure of Suggs, the Ravens' franchise record-holder in games played who signed a free-agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals, caught him by surprise.
"This is a business," Bisciotti said, noting that the Ravens were "close" in terms of a contract offer. "Until the very minute Terrell took Arizona's deal, I thought he would take less to stay here, and I was wrong."
He also said he was not in favor of using the franchise tag to retain Mosley, knowing that doing so would tie up a considerable amount of cap space in what amounts to a one-year deal. That meant the Ravens could get outbid on the open market for Mosley, which is what happened when the New York Jets swooped in with a five-year, $85 million deal.
"It was a shocking number," Bisciotti said, "and something that C.J. deserves. I think the world of him."
Despite the wholesale changes on defense, Bisciotti said, "I'm not worried about it. ... I'm very confident with the guys that are going to replace the players that we lost."
Among the young players who could ascend to larger roles this year, Bisciotti mentioned cornerback Anthony Averett, safety DeShon Elliott and linebacker Tim Williams.
Of Williams, the 2017 third-round pick who has failed to deliver much in two seasons with the team, Bisciotti said, "He really has an opportunity" as a situational pass rusher with the departure of Suggs.
Williams, Bisciotti said, is "going to have a chance to prove himself," Bisciotti added. "Tim Williams has to look at this and say, 'The path is wide open. It's there for me.' "
To an outside linebacker group that returns starter Matthew Judon along with Williams and Tyus Bowser, the Ravens have added Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray to the mix, and they drafted edge rusher Jaylon Ferguson in the third round.
"I expect to see a lot of competition for those two, and sometimes three, pass rushers in our system," Bisciotti said.
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