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Ravens Open Season With Lamar Jackson, Running Back Issues

 Lamar Jackson helmet and jersey.
Erik Drost
Lamar Jackson helmet and jersey. Photo by Erik Drost via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If you think Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has been a running fool to this point in his career, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

As the 2021 season opens Monday in Las Vegas against the Raiders, Jackson’s skills at shifting and moving will be on full display, on and off the field.

The team saw their top three running backs, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill, all suffer injuries to their knees and Achilles tendon that will likely cost them the 2021 season.

Add those three to knee injuries to cornerback Marcus Peters and linebacker L.J. Fort and you get the sense that while the Ravens are in Vegas, they ought to stay as far away from the casinos as possible.

The team signed veterans Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell to back up second-year pro Ty’Son Williams, who had no carries last year as a rookie.

The injuries to the running game will place even more pressure on Jackson as the focal point of the team’s offense.

With four new running backs and a sketchy passing game, Jackson will have even more responsibility thrust upon his narrow shoulders.

And the timing couldn’t be more critical for Jackson and the team.

Jackson, the NFL’s most valuable player two years ago, is a breakthrough star, the Ravens’ most visible symbol and its clear icon.

As we said recently, Baltimore’s Super Bowl hopes and aspirations begin and end with Lamar Demeatrice Jackson, Jr., a prospect that should delight and frighten Ravens fans and officials.

In virtually every respect, Jackson represents precisely what a team leader should be. He is not only immensely talented, but by all accounts, hard-working and willing to learn.

On the rare occasions where he has failed, Jackson has worn the hat of responsibility and pledged to be better. You can’t ask for anything more from a star.

There is one area, however, where Jackson’s efforts have come up dramatically and disappointingly short.

The quarterback has repeatedly refused to clear up his COVID-19 vaccination status, despite numerous questions and the fact that he has twice tested positive for the virus.

Jackson and his supporters say his privacy and his decisions about how he lives his life should be respected, as would the choices of any other person.

The problem with that argument is that professional athletes in general and star quarterbacks in particular aren’t like you and me.

Most of us aren’t married to supermodels like Tom Brady or have a chance to host “Jeopardy!” like Aaron Rodgers. Whether he likes it or not, Lamar Jackson is in that club with fabulous cosmic powers, and an itty-bitty living space.

On top of that, the Ravens will likely have to decide at the end of this season whether to extend Jackson’s contract, offering him a yearly salary north of $40 million.

His judgement on COVID issues probably makes such a choice worrisome for Ravens owner Steve Bischotti. A veteran quarterback’s contract costs in the hundreds of millions and ties up a sizable portion of the team’s salary cap for years.

Is Jackson worth it? The Ravens would be foolish not to take the entire season to see if he gets smart.

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

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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.