Lamar Jackson will not play in the Ravens’ preseason finale on Saturday, coach John Harbaugh announced Thursday, marking the first time in the quarterback’s five-year career that he will sit out the entire preseason.
The decision to sideline Jackson and other rookies again against the Washington Commanders reflects a broader reversal in the team’s strategy after one of the most injury-plagued seasons in recent NFL history.
In last year’s preseason finale, long considered a dress rehearsal for the regular season, the Ravens played most of their starters for at least the series, with some getting more than a third of the team’s snaps. However, in the Ravens’ two preseason games this month, there are only three projected starters on offense — running back Mike Davis, left tackle Ben Powers and fullback Patrick Rickard — and three projected defensive starters — defensive linemen Justin Madubuike and Michael Pierce and outside linebacker Odafe Owe — played, and sparingly.
In March, Harbaugh said keeping the Ravens healthy was “priority one, of course, along with being really good and making sure we put a good team on the field and we’re prepared.” Organization recalibrated the team’s offseason program and last year’s preseason schedule, moving training camp practices from mornings to afternoons, emphasizing training flexibility, closely tracking workloads and even name a new head athletic trainer.
Saturday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium came 364 days after Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins. Season-ending knee injury on a first-quarter screen pass in the team’s preseason finale against Washington. Dobbins, who appeared poised for a breakout second season in Baltimore, was not allowed to return to practice until August 8, and its availability during Week 1 remains unclear. He did not practice on Thursday.
Days after the Ravens’ 37-3 victory at FedEx Field that extended their preseason streak to an NFL-record 20 games, Harbaugh admitted he had no second thoughts about his decision to play starters like Dobbins in a relatively meaningless games. “It’s an honest conversation,” he said. Harbaugh noted that while the “great teams in the AFC” have played their starters, other teams “don’t play their starters even at one point.”
“I know we’ve come further down the road than we ever have; we haven’t played our guys so much this offseason,” he added. “It was just the way we did it. But every time a guy gets hurt, you ask yourself those questions.”
The following season prompted deeper calculations in Baltimore. Before Dobbins’ knee injury, Ravens rookie wide receiver Rashad Bateman underwent surgery to repair a hamstring injury, inside linebacker AL G. Fort suffered a season-ending ACL injury and defensive end Derek Wolfe suffered career-ending hip and back injuries. . Three days before the season opener, running back Gus Edwards and cornerback Marcus Peters suffered season-ending knee injuries at practice a few minutes apart.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (chest), safety DeSean Elliott (biceps/chest), tight end Nick Boyle (knee) and Jackson (ankle), all Week 1 starters, will also miss significant numbers time due to injuries. In accordance with analytics site Football Outsidersno team in the past two decades, even when prorated for a 16-game season, has had more injury-related personnel losses than the 2021 Ravens.
After the season, Harbaugh said the Ravens would “change a lot” in their approach to injury prevention. About a month into training camp, they lost just one expected contributor, outside linebacker Vince Biegel (Achilles tendon). season-ending injury. Rookie defensive end Travis Jones will miss three to five weeks with a sprained knee, Harbaugh said Tuesday. Outside midfielder Tyus Bowser (Achilles) and Stanley are yet to return to training as they continue their rehabilitation.
Even with fewer practices in camp and few running more than two hours, the Ravens’ coaches are excited about their team’s development. The Ravens defeated the Tennessee Titans. comfortable in the preseason opener earlier holding off the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, their 22nd straight win of the season.
“You know exactly our philosophy on how we operate,” first-year defensive coordinator Mike McDonald, who first joined Harbaugh’s staff in 2014, said Wednesday. “We’re a hard-working organization, so we’re going to put in the hard work. So it’s definitely important. I think if we knew the magic number of reps, everyone would do it. It’s like if there was one magical defense, everyone would use it all the time.
“So I think that’s something you just try to work on and there’s a lot of research that went into it with all the guys off the field, behind the scenes, trying to figure out the loads and things like that. Communicating with players about how they are feeling. “Harbs deserves a lot of credit for knowing when to push and when to hold back, so he just has a great feel for it.”
Jackson, who is set to enter this season in the final year of his rookie contract, dismissed questions last week about whether he wanted to play in the preseason. His preseason workload decreased after his rookie year in 2018, when he played in all four games. In 2019, ahead of his first season as the primary starter, Jackson played in just the first two of the Ravens’ four preseason games. In his first regular season game that season, he posted a perfect passer rating in a blowout win against the Miami Dolphins.
The NFL canceled the 2020 preseason amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Jackson played just 10 preseason snaps last year, all against the Chiefs. Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who has coached in the NFL for more than two decades, said he can’t remember working on an offense that sat most starters all preseason.
“But when I sit back and try to think about it logically … I think back to a series here and there that we’ve played — what did that do for us? Have we gotten better?” – he said on Wednesday. “It’s like, ‘I feel better; I saw him come out and make those four key plays and put together a drive.” And that’s good; there is nothing wrong with that. … I’m not worried about that. We are in full swing, preparing without worries. But how much has it really benefited us? I don’t know. I’ll get back to you about it.”
When asked Thursday if the Ravens’ approach to Jackson could set a precedent for their quarterback, Harbaugh said he wasn’t thinking that far ahead.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see in the upcoming preseasons.”
Preseason Week 3
COMMANDERS @ SHOPS
Saturday, 7 p.m
TV: see 11
radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM