Building an Offense Around a Mobile Quarterback Like Lamar Jackson

Greg Roman has coached in the NFL for 25 years. On Jan. 19, he stepped down as offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, a position he had held since 2019 when the Associated Press named him the league’s assistant coach of the year. During Roman’s time as OC with the Ravens, quarterback Lamar Jackson set several league records, and the team led the NFL in many critical offensive categories. Roman plans to spend the 2023 season out of football. He will continue to stay connected to the game, including regular contributions to The 33rd Team.

This is the first of a two-part series. This installment looks at Roman’s time working with Jackson and other mobile quarterbacks.

Our record in Baltimore when Lamar Jackson was our starting quarterback (45-16) speaks for itself. Because at the end of the day, this thing is always about the team winning.

I always tell the quarterback the No. 1 job is to win. All the stats are beautiful and fun water-cooler talk, but it’s all about the team winning. The quarterback is the most crucial part, but we’re not chasing stats or garbage yards. We’re chasing victories. Our win-loss percentage (.738) — Jackson’s win-loss percentage — is pretty impressive.

If you have a quarterback with certain skills, you’ve got to tap into their strengths, and you’ve got to mine for gold there and have convictions. When you’re doing something different, half the fans aren’t even going to understand it because that’s not what they’re used to. You know that going in, but you’ve got to have the strength of conviction and courage to forge ahead with it.


Building Around Jackson

Coaching Jackson was exciting and unique. A lot of creative thought went into it – different, original thoughts. You’re not just copying what somebody else is doing. In Baltimore, we weren’t a huge audible system. We did some of it, but we were mostly about pre-snap motions, shifting, changing the picture for the defense and utilizing various tempos. Putting it all together to where you have answers without doing a lot of checking and audibling was a big part of what we did.

But, any time you start bringing pre-snap movement into your offense, it requires a lot of coaching and a lot of detail. When you line up and run a play in a static formation, the quarterback can come up, look at the defense, think about what he studied all week and anticipate what will happen based on what he sees. 

When you start motioning players, you’re gathering information with the motion because the defense will change. It doesn’t just change for the quarterback; it changes for everybody. So, there are a lot of nuances on how to coach and teach that because if you’re not ready for those adjustments the defense makes when you motion a lot, bad things can happen. So, we kind of had to learn that on the fly.

>>READ: Up for Debate: How Will Jackson’s Stalemate with Ravens End?

When you’re a coach, no matter who you have as players will determine your direction. As a coach, it’s your job to put the final stamp on it and say, “Hey, we’re going to go in this direction. We’re going to go in that direction.” 

I’ve been around some athletic quarterbacks, starting with Andrew Luck at Stanford, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick with the San Francisco 49ers, and Tyrod Taylor with the Buffalo Bills. I built this system that was continually evolving. With all those years of experience with dual-threat quarterbacks, it evolved and evolved. 

It’s an exciting challenge to take any kind of talent and figure out how to unlock and deploy that talent. So, if we had a traditional drop-back passer, the offense would look a lot different, as it should.

Managing Risk

When you have these kinds of special quarterbacks who can use their legs and impact the game, it’s a fine line. It was interesting to read the comments Bills coach Sean McDermott recently made expressing concern over the extensive running by his quarterback, Josh Allen, because of the increased risk of injury. 

A lot of it comes down to the quarterback’s instincts at the moment. The Bills may not draw up as many designed runs, so Allen may decide to scramble more. At the end of the day, he’s running more, and he might be gaining more yards, first downs, and points because of it.

Jackson was such a master of avoiding hits, and honestly, he was safest when he was out in space on the move because he was in control as opposed to in the pocket with his eyes downfield, hoping somebody doesn’t run into the back of his legs. The few times he got injured were behind the line of scrimmage, looking to make a throw down the field.

But it never was an issue when he was running out in space. That’s pretty counterintuitive to what many people believe to be true. It comes back to the specific player, and their style when they run. Allen will run some defenders over, so there’s some hard contact at times. 

I understand where McDermott is coming from because you’re trying to find that sweet spot, and it’s an ongoing thing that will never come to an endpoint. Not only are you designing runs, but you’ve also got to decide on how many, what kind, where the quarterback will enter the line of scrimmage, that type of thing.

Then, there are the times when the quarterback decides to pull the ball down on a designed pass. There are times when the quarterback draw tag is also built into a play. I’m sure other teams are doing that as well. 

I appreciate where McDermott’s coming from because I’ve dealt with that question almost every day for the past 15 years or so. It’s a valid point, but there are two sides to it, and there’s a sweet spot you’re trying to find.

The elite pocket passer will always be valued. At some point, you’ve got to stand in the pocket, throw the ball and deliver it to win consistently. How much you have to do that will change, but there’s no doubt the opportunity exists for mobile quarterbacks because NFL decision-makers have seen it work.

As told to Vic Carucci


Lamar Jackson Responds to Criticism Around Injuries

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson isn’t happy about the criticism he’s received about his injury history. On Tuesday, Jackson defended himself on Twitter and dispelled rumors he sat out games last season because of his contract situation.

“I don’t remember me sitting out on my guys Week 1 vs. Jets to Week 12 vs. Broncos,” Jackson tweeted. “How come all of a sudden I sit out because of money in which I could’ve got hurt at any time within that time frame when we know the Super Bowl has been on my mind since April 2018.”

The quarterback suffered a PCL strain that forced him to miss the final five games of the regular season and Baltimore’s wild-card loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Jackson’s statement was likely prompted by comments from NFL decision-makers during the annual owners’ meetings on Tuesday. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank questioned Jackson’s ability to stay healthy.

“Looking at it objectively, I’d say there’s some concern over how long he can play his style of game,” Blank told a group of reporters Tuesday. “Hopefully, a long time … but he’s missed five or six games each of the last two years. Each game counts a lot in our business.”

The Falcons were among the first teams to declare they wouldn’t pursue Jackson after the Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on the former MVP, allowing him to negotiate with other teams. Since then, no team has stepped up as a contender for Jackson.

>> DEBATE: How Will Ravens-Jackson Stalemate End? 

“You need to keep in mind this a quarterback who doesn’t have a huge frame,” said Rich Gannon, an analyst for The 33rd Team. “He has gotten bigger and stronger since his rookie season, but he’s also missed five games in each of the last two seasons — in critical parts of the season, late in the season, when the Ravens needed him the most.”

Along with his injury history, some teams are reportedly hesitant about trading two first-round picks and signing Jackson to a fully-guaranteed contract. Of course, the Ravens could turn down the picks and match the contract anyway.

On Monday, Jackson publicly requested a trade from the Ravens. To facilitate any trade, Jackson would have to sign the non-exclusive tag. That would allow a team to acquire him for less than two first-round picks.

Rick Spielman, an analyst for The 33rd Team, believes Jackson’s value exceeds what a team would pay for signing him to an offer sheet.

“The [Ravens] can’t afford to lose him because I don’t believe there are any options,” Spielman said. “If they do trade him, he is worth way more than two No. 1 picks. You have to look at what Denver gave up for Russell Wilson and some of these other quarterback trades.”

The Denver Broncos acquired quarterback Russell Wilson for a trade package that included two first-round picks in addition to two second-round picks and three established, young players.

To the Ravens’ credit, they’ve remained steadfast in their belief Jackson will remain in Baltimore.

“I’m getting ready for Lamar,” coach John Harbaugh told reporters on Monday. “When Lamar gets back on this train, it’s moving full speed.”

If Jackson leaves the Ravens this offseason, the team will likely turn to Tyler Huntley as their starter. Other options, like Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr and Jacoby Brissett, have signed elsewhere.

Falcons Sign Defensive Lineman Calais Campbell to 1-Year Deal

Falcons Sign Defensive Lineman Calais Campbell to 1-Year Deal
The Atlanta Falcons continued adding talent to their defense on Wednesday by signing veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell to a one-year deal, NFL Media reported. The Baltimore Ravens released Campbell following the 2022 season after three seasons with the team. Campbell quickly met with the Falcons after his release and signed, partly thanks to a […]

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NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft: Best Landing Spot for Alabama’s Bryce Young

This is part of a series on the best fits for the 2023 NFL Draft’s top four quarterbacks. 

>> Others in Series: C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson

Draft projection can be a tricky proposition, and nowhere can it be trickier than for top quarterback prospects.

Rather than engage in a scoreboard exercise, it’s more fruitful to examine the quarterback-needy teams at the top of Round 1 and try to discern a fit for each of the four quarterbacks who have separated themselves from the rest of the 2023 NFL Draft class.

Next up, is Alabama’s Bryce Young (scouting report), who like Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud (scouting report), had his pro day last week.

Young’s Most Logical Landing Spot

If Young, the best quarterback in this class, is available for the Houston Texans at No. 2, it’s a slam-dunk pick and an enticing fit.

Why Texans Make Sense

The synergy with new coach DeMeco Ryans would just be plain cool. The coach in his 30s and quarterback in his 20s, both super high achievers at Alabama, each leaning into their high-profile and initial shot on the NFL’s big stage together.

Stroud seems like a fit for the Carolina Panthers at No. 1 overall. If the draft plays out this way and Young ends up a Texan, both he and Ryans would have draft slights in their pasts. Like Young, Ryans was tremendously productive for the Crimson Tide. He was the SEC Defensive Player of the year in 2005, yet because he was a tad smaller and a step slower than the prototypical NFL linebacker, he had to watch height-weight-speed prospects like Bobby Carpenter, Kamerion Wimbley and Manny Lawson hear their names called in the first round, while he didn’t go until the second.

Young’s “slight” would be lesser, going second overall instead of first, but if he were 6-foot-2 instead of 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds instead of 205, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have gone first.

Ryans is a defensive coach, so it’s not like these two will be studying film or implementing offensive game plans together. But if the two new faces of the franchise share an alma mater and similarly driven anecdotal draft slights, the connection is unique and a fun place to start.

Now for the part of the Young-to-the-Texans fit that involves everyday football, specifically their hiring of Bobby Slowik as offensive coordinator.

While Ryans was the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers the past two seasons, Slowik was their passing game coordinator. Ponder that title, and that offense, for a moment. Now consider the unique personnel — and specific offensive success — Slowik directed or witnessed, and what a benefit the knowledge gained could be for Young and the Texans.

Kyle Shanahan is in charge of all things 49ers offense, and his fingerprints are on their brand of offensive football much more than Slowik’s or any other assistant’s. Just being close to Shanahan (let alone the times he was delegated to) and the way San Francisco found its way to a high level of offensive production would bear fruit for Young.

Slowik’s quarterback experience, just this past season alone, is a master class for how to navigate NFL life with Young. There are so many ways to leverage his talent and instincts in and out of the pocket, and there are so many ways Slowik had to coach quarterbacks in 2022.

As San Francisco’s passing game coordinator, he had to design an offense first to match Trey Lance, the 49ers’ intended starter last season. The possibilities he presented outside the pocket had to be married with all he could do from inside of it, all while considering he was a first-year starter. That could turn into his exact task in Houston this season with Young.

Then, Slowik had to pivot back to Jimmy Garoppolo, a completely different type of quarterback. Garoppolo was excellent at executing the quick-hitting intermediate passing game designed to work between the hashes. While there’s no such thing as an “easy” passing game to operate as a rookie, a few concepts drawn up to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly and to be delivered 10-15 yards over the middle are staples to have in your arsenal for a rookie signal-caller. Slowik arrives in Houston with expertise in this area.

Speaking of rookie quarterbacks, we shouldn’t forget Slowik had to play a significant part in getting Brock Purdy ready to hit the ground running in December and helping him perform at an admirable level from Day 1. The hands-on leadership role he was forced to play in dealing with three different types of quarterbacks — one a rookie and one with rookie-type NFL experience — seems an ideal apprenticeship to being the one most involved with Young’s Year 1 development.

As I described in a feature about him a few weeks ago, I see Young as part shortstop, part point guard, equipped with a good amount of traditional quarterback skills, with his own brand of playmaking calm. As a fan, I’d love to see him paired with a coach whose background makes him well-suited to take advantage of all Young has to offer. There’s reason to believe he could find that in Houston.

Paul Burmeister, a former starting quarterback at Iowa, is a studio host with NBC Sports and the radio voice of Notre Dame Football. For a decade he worked as a studio host at NFL Network. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulWBurmeister


Smith: Ridder Slated to be Falcons’ Starting Quarterback

The Atlanta Falcons gave second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder a confidence boost on Tuesday. At the NFL owners’ meetings, coach Arthur Smith committed to the 2021 third-round pick as the team’s starter in 2023.

“I thought he made significant improvement from each start,” Smith said. “We expect him to make another leap this offseason. There are always things you can work on, with lower body mechanics. He can get more comfortable – when you don’t change systems that helps, too. We expect significant growth from him.”

Smith refused to address any rumors the team was pursuing Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson saying, “we are going to talk about our own players.” Jackson, who publicly requested a trade on Monday, has long been rumored as an option for the Falcons. However, Atlanta has gone out of its way to deny those rumors.

The Falcons were one of the first teams to declare they wouldn’t pursue Jackson when the Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on the former MVP, and Tuesday’s comments reinforced Atlanta’s belief in Ridder.

>> DEBATE: How Will Ravens-Jackson Stalemate End?

Robert Smith, an analyst for The 33rd Team, has long believed Atlanta committing to Ridder for 2023 is the right move.

“You’ve got, I believe, the answer at quarterback in Desmond Ridder,” Smith said earlier this offseason. “You’ve got a solid offensive line, and you’ve got two really good pass catchers in Drake London and Kyle Pitts.”

Ridder started the final four games of the 2022 regular season, finishing with a 2-2 record after taking over for Marcus Mariota. The former Cincinnati Bearcat completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 708 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

WATCH: 3 Ways to Fix Falcons


Report: Aaron Rodgers’ Ambiguous Future Stalling Packers-Jets Trade Talks

Trade talks for quarterback Aaron Rodgers between the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets have moved slowly, and the hangup appears to be additional protections on future draft-pick compensation in case Rodgers retires after the 2023 season, Yahoo Sports reported on Tuesday.

Talks have centered around the Jets trading a second-round pick in the 2023 and 2024 NFL Draft for Rodgers. However, New York wants the 2024 pick to be protected by team performance escalators. The Jets also want 2025 draft compensation returned in case of Rodgers’ retirement.

The Jets’ concerns about Rodgers’ retirement are well-founded. During a March 15 interview on The Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers said he was leaning toward retiring before his isolation retreat in February.

“I’ve got to admit, I went into the darkness 90 percent retired (and) 10 percent playing,” Rodgers told McAfee.

Those comments, made right before committing to play for the Jets, caused trade negotiations to become more complicated.

At the NFL owners’ meetings on Monday, Jets coach Robert Saleh remained confident Rodgers would be his quarterback in 2023. General manager Joe Douglas added that the two sides had had productive conversations, but there was no sense of urgency to get a deal done.

“I’m not hitting the panic button,” Saleh said. “I’m confident that things are going to work out. You guys know me. I’m a very positive person and optimistic, so I’m confident that things will go the way we’re hoping. But at the same time, it’s not going to eat at me.”

Previous reporting indicated the Packers sought the Jets’ 2023 first-round pick (No. 13 overall). However, on Monday at the owners’ meetings, general manager Brian Gutekunst said the No. 13 pick wasn’t required in a Rodgers trade.

Comments from Rodgers’ March 15 appearance on McAfee’s show also surprised the Packers. During the interview, Rodgers said he wished the team had communicated more directly with him. However, on Monday, Gutekunst said Rodgers was the one who had been non-communicative.

“Our inability to reach him or for him to respond in any way — I think at that point … I had to do my job,” Gutekunst said. “I was really looking forward to having conversations with Aaron to see where he fit into (our future), but there came a time where we had to make some decisions.”

With Rodgers on his way out, the Packers are pivoting to Jordan Love at quarterback. Love has played in 10 games and made just one start since being drafted in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. On Tuesday, Packers coach Matt LaFleur said the team needs to “temper our expectations” regarding Love.

There’s no deadline for Rodgers to get traded, but the Jets begin offseason activities on April 17, which run through the middle of June. Still, Saleh didn’t commit to Rodgers needing to be on the roster by then.

While the Jets are remaining calm, other quarterback options like Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr have already found new homes this offseason.

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