So as Jackson arrived at training camp in July to begin his third pro season under the most unusual of circumstances, it was no surprise that his first video conference call with reporters included talk of the postseason issues.
“I’ve just got to go out there and do my job, go out there and win games, make it to the playoffs,” Jackson said. “But our job is to focus on the Cleveland Browns right now. I can’t really dwell on the playoffs because those games — that was my rookie season. People didn’t even expect us to go to the playoffs at all. And last year, none of us expected to lose. They came out, they played well. We didn’t. But now we’ve just got to focus on the Cleveland Browns. Then we get back to the playoffs, then we’re going to go from there.”
The Ravens are set to host the Browns in their season opener Sept. 13. Yet even with that one-game-at-a-time deflection, Jackson made it clear that he is not shying from the big expectations. He was asked about the 10-year, $450 million contract extension that quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Jackson’s predecessor as league MVP, signed in early July with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
“My reaction is,” Jackson said, “I’ve got to win me a Super Bowl. I don’t really focus on what he has going on because I’ve still got to prove myself. When that time comes, then we can negotiate after the Super Bowl. But until then, I’m focused on winning right now.”
The Ravens had a great offense last season because Jackson added polish as a passer to go with the breathtaking running skills he had shown as a rookie. His 36-touchdown, six-interception passing performance represented rapid progress for a player who had to endure suggestions before the 2018 draft that he would be better served playing wide receiver at this level.
What’s next? Jackson spoke at the outset of training camp about needing to improve all aspects of his game. But when pressed, he mentioned a focus on his down-the-field throws. Jackson had an impressive touchdown on a deep pass to second-year wide receiver Marquise Brown to highlight a scrimmage that included a sloppy beginning for the offense.
“I feel good about where we’re at,” running back Mark Ingram said in a video conference call with reporters following the scrimmage. “We have guys who have the right intent, guys who want to play hard, guys who want to be great. … We’re not all the way ready. We still have strides to go to be the team that we want to be. … There’s lots of different operational things that we need to improve and sharpen up.”
As the Ravens try to reproduce last season’s offensive precision, they didn’t have the benefit of any preseason games to fine-tune.
“It’s here,” Coach John Harbaugh said. “We don’t have preseason games to work out the operational execution details and understanding and those kinds of things that we need to be really good at in order to make sure we play good football. So the guys are urgent, and they want to get those things right.”
Harbaugh and the front office took a no-nonsense approach when the Ravens released safety Earl Thomas after a practice-field altercation with teammate Chuck Clark during training camp. That move elevated third-year pro DeShon Elliott to the starting lineup. An offseason trade for defensive end Calais Campbell brought another defensive playmaker and a respected leader into the locker room. But most eyes will be on Jackson and the offense come Week 1.
“You’ve always got to make yourself better because the teams that you’re playing against, they’re trying to stop you,” Jackson said. “They’re trying to make you look like you’re not that guy, what people may portray you as. So my job is to learn more, get my mental state of mind right where it’s supposed to be at. You get the mental part down pat and go from there.”
Opposing defenses have had another year to adjust to the system that offensive coordinator Greg Roman designed for Jackson. But Jackson and the Ravens have had another year to improve on what they’re doing.
“Hard work, dedication — I’m going to keep working hard,” Jackson said. “My second year is done with. It’s over with. But I’ve got to focus on this season. Last year is in the past. We fell short. It didn’t end how I wanted it to end. But I’m focused on this season. I’ve just got to do better. There’s always room for improvement. And I’ve just got to keep grinding, working on everything — passing, running ability, everything. I feel like the sky’s the limit — not just me but the team, the whole organization.”