By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
It has been well chronicled that Ozzie Newsome’s first two drafts defined his legacy well before the Baltimore Ravens ever won a Super Bowl. He anchored the offense with Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden at tackle, when leading the troops in act one of commanding their war room. A year later the defense was set when they drafted Ray Lewis at linebacker and he became the gold standard at the position for his generation.
In between, Newsome drafted one of the greatest safeties ever in Ed Reed – who figures to get fitted for his HOFers gold Jacket next summer – and found over 60 pro bowl players while building the Ravens into two time Super Bowl champions including soon to be former starting quarterback Joe Flacco. In his final draft, however, Newsome may have found the NFL’s next generational leader who will keep Baltimore contending for the 10-15 years.
Lamar Jackson may still be a work in progress but is now the face of the franchise. Jackson is a reason for Ravens’ fans to believe they’ve got the answer to Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield under center in the AFC North and as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for Ben Rothlisberger to retire. He also gives the average fan a reason to watch and buy jerseys while his humble southern personality will sell everything from pizza to insurance.
“LJ8” is must-see TV for the very reasons experts admonish him for what’s apparently is lacking in game. That he is inconsistent as a passer as a rookie is expected when this was supposed to be a redshirt year as he watched behind Flacco and Robert “RG3” Griffin. In a league that has morphed into broadband digital offensively, he runs an analog scheme that still works if executed properly. True field generals – as the cadre of great Black QBs are known to each other in their insulated crucible – win games by any means necessary and Jackson’s legs are a blessing not a curse.
The Ravens won five of his first six games starting and he invigorated a franchise that had gotten stale. Until their former Heisman Trophy winning first draft choice finally got reigns of the offense fulltime, Baltimore was a brown banana in the NFL’s produce section. Jackson is green, yet the team is 5-1 when he’s a starter so imagine what happens when he turns ripe.
Jackson is not going to endorse any videos for passing fundamentals at this stage of his career. Rookie quarterbacks need only to manage games and not create turnovers that put his defense in awkward situations. They also must capitalize when given the few chances to make plays in games as they present themselves. After passing for 9,703 yards and 69 TDs over three years at Louisville, Jackson will get better. He showed that in Los Angeles when his perfect pass to Mark Andrews led to a 68-yard touchdown and a postseason saving victory.
If owner Steve Bisciotti wanted the perfect landing place between their last world championship, the embarrassing Ray Rice saga, five consecutive years missing the playoffs, and secession from Flacco at quarterback, it’s the shoulders of Jackson. He gives the Ravens swagger and class while his overt passion is contagious in the locker room, huddle and when dealing with media.
Presence and purpose are intangibles that can’t be measured during the NFL combine or Senior Bowl week. Jackson has them and could be next in line for a statue in front of M&T Bank Stadium before the organization tries to fleece the city for a new building before threatening to move if they don’t get one.