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Ahead Of Schedule, L. Jackson To Be Focus Of Ravens' Camp"

By week’s end, the full complement of Ravens will have reported to Owings Mills for training camp and the commencing of the 2019 season.

As the players and coaches gather to formulate the roster for the beginning of the NFL campaign, fans and the media will cast glances at certain position battles.

We’ll find out if Marquise “Hollywood” Brown will be the star wide receiver the Ravens have pined for for years. Or who will replace Terrell Suggs at rush linebacker.

We’ll even get a first look at whether Eric DeCosta, the new general manager can hold a candle to the man he’s supplanting, Ozzie Newsome.

Yet, the man who will draw the most scrutiny, the brightest spotlight is the quarterback, same as it ever was in any training camp.

But for the first time in 12 years, that quarterback won’t be Joe Flacco, who was dealt in the offseason to Denver for a fourth-round draft pick.

No, the new sheriff in town is Lamar Jackson, the second-year signal caller who comes to camp for the first time as the starter.

And while the other positions and DeCosta will be draw their own level of attention, it’s Jackson and his development as a quarterback that will be the dominant theme of this training camp.

Not to overstate things, but the Ravens’ ability to repeat as AFC North champions and make the playoffs rest on Jackson’s progress.

Jackson, the former Heisman Trophy winner, almost certainly became the starter ahead of schedule last season. His style at Louisville was to run nearly as often as he threw, a formula that rarely works in the NFL at quarterback.

Though the Ravens clearly wanted to be out from under the yoke of Flacco’s massive contract, they wanted to bring Jackson along slowly, to have him learn how to be a professional quarterback.

But Flacco’s midseason hip injury drastically altered the landscape. Suddenly, patience had to go out the window because the Ravens didn’t collapse without their leader, as one might have expected.

A confluence of Baltimore’s surprising success and the late season breakdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens’ chief rival, meant the club had to alter their offensive approach to suit Jackson’s limited, but growing skill set.

Amazingly, the change worked as the Ravens made the playoffs for the first time in four years, earning head coach John Harbaugh a contract extension.

However, Jackson’s limitations were fully exposed in a wild card game loss at home to the Los Angeles Chargers, a team Baltimore had conquered on the road just a few weeks before.

Under normal circumstances, Jackson would be going into a second season and taking the next step in his progression.

Instead, he will need to grow up as a quarterback and quickly. The Steelers won’t bottom out again and the Cleveland Browns appear ready to emerge from their long status as division patsies.

They may call Marquise Brown “Hollywood,” but it’s clear that Lamar Jackson is the star of this show. And he’ll need to play like one fast in order to make 2019 look like 2018.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.