OWINGS MILLS, Md. — John Harbaugh stood in the course of a follow area minimize out of the suburban Baltimore woods, speaking above the roar of the 2 CH-47 Chinooks and one UH-60 Blackhawk ready to take his staff on a joyride above town.

The Baltimore Ravens have been internet hosting members of the Maryland Military Nationwide Guard on this Friday when a customer raised the type of big-picture topic coaches wish to dodge the way in which Lamar Jackson dodges would-be tacklers within the secondary.

Those that know Harbaugh know that he’s aware of what it means for Baltimore, with a inhabitants that’s 63% African American, to have a black star at quarterback, and that he acknowledges what it meant to Jackson — and the bigger reason for equal alternative for black quarterbacks — in January when he did not bench the overwhelmed rookie in favor of Joe Flacco late in Baltimore’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

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Harbaugh stated there will probably be a greater time to speak at size in regards to the deeper significance of his determination to belief Jackson to run his staff. However he budged when informed that years from now, his selection to stay with Jackson over a Tremendous Bowl MVP is likely to be considered as a seminal second within the black athlete’s journey past vile stereotypes and towards full acceptance on the sport’s premier management place.

“That is nice,” Harbaugh informed ESPN.com. “It is going to be good to be remembered for one thing, particularly one thing good like that. If that seems to be the case, I will be very pleased with that.”

At 8-2 and homeowners of a six-game successful streak, the Ravens are being rewarded for recognizing Jackson’s staggering potential earlier than anybody else did. They traded as much as take him with the ultimate decide of the primary spherical of the 2018 draft, after 4 different quarterbacks have been chosen within the prime 10. By midseason of Jackson’s rookie marketing campaign, going through a potential firing at season’s finish after 11 distinguished years on the job, Harbaugh wanted Jackson as a lot as Jackson wanted him.

That they had a good quantity in widespread too. No one ever actually needed John as a participant, or as a coach, like they needed his youthful brother, Jim, a longtime beginning quarterback within the NFL. John was a partial scholarship reserve at Miami (Ohio), earlier than spending practically a quarter-century as a university and Philadelphia Eagles assistant who never rose to offensive or defensive coordinator. The one NFL team that interviewed him for its head coach opening, Baltimore, really hoped to hire Jason Garrett, who chose to stay with the Dallas Cowboys and stuck the Ravens with their second choice.

Lamar Jackson has thrown for 2,258 yards with 19 touchdown passes and five interceptions this season. AP Photo/Nick Wass

Jackson? He was a three-star recruit out of Florida’s Boynton Beach Community High School who was seen by some big-time college programs as a wideout in the making and who needed a University of Louisville assistant — former NFL and University of Miami wide receiver Lamar Thomas — to hard-sell head coach Bobby Petrino into believing Jackson could be their guy. Three years later, the NFL wanted Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen a lot more than it wanted Jackson and the alleged injury risk associated with ultra-mobile quarterbacks.

The same franchise that gambled on Harbaugh decided to gamble on Jackson too. The new quarterback couldn’t have been more different than the old quarterback, Flacco, who had rushed for 757 yards in 10 NFL seasons before the arrival of Jackson, who had rushed for 4,132 yards in three college seasons.

The result is a partnership that has won 14 of 17 regular-season games over two seasons, including Sunday’s 41-7 shredding of the Houston Texans, and that has moved Baltimore into position to contend for its first Super Bowl appearance since John Harbaugh (and Flacco) beat his brother’s San Francisco 49ers seven years ago in New Orleans.

“We got a steal because everyone passed Lamar up because they didn’t want to go with a running quarterback. But John goes, ‘We can do this. We can mold our offense to him.'”

John Harbaugh’s wife, Ingrid

“John was close to Joe too,” Harbaugh’s wife, Ingrid, said Sunday in a quiet moment in back of the winning team’s locker room. “But it’s just a different level with Lamar.”

That level was obvious during Baltimore’s blowout victory at the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this month, when a microphone caught a bench exchange that opened a window for the soccer world on the Jackson-Harbaugh relationship. The coach informed his quarterback that almost all of his friends fear about stats and that he appreciated his selfless management. Harbaugh and Jackson expressed their love for one another, and the coach for the participant’s attacking type.

“You modified the sport, man,” Harbaugh informed him. “You understand how many little children on this nation are going to be carrying No. Eight taking part in quarterback for the following 20 years due to you?”

“I can not wait to see it,” Jackson stated, “after I become old. However proper now I’ve received to get to the Tremendous Bowl.”

Harbaugh confirmed one thing NFL coaches not often present in a sport — his humanity. Jackson responded by exhibiting his personal, and by reminding his coach of the singular mission he publicly states greater than most younger quarterbacks — attending to, and successful, a Tremendous Bowl.

Harbaugh stated the Ravens posted that dialog on social media with out asking him or PR chief Kevin Byrne for permission “as a result of they know we might’ve each stated no.” Jackson stated his coach “all the time comes as much as me, talks to me about stuff like that,” and now Harbaugh is joyful considered one of their exchanges was made public so hundreds of thousands might see the bond he has cast along with his energetic star.

Reality is, the Jackson-Harbaugh partnership might problem, and surpass, the Patrick Mahomes-Andy Reid partnership for long-term AFC supremacy each time Tom Brady and Invoice Belichick name it a day. Jackson, at 22, is now the front-runner for league MVP, and even a real believer like Harbaugh, at 57, couldn’t have seen this coming this quickly.

Who might, aside from the women and men who have been there when Jackson first began beating the chances stacked in opposition to him?


Joshua Harris, a former defensive finish at Tennessee State and a former lawyer, was head coach at Highlands Christian Academy in Jackson’s hometown of Pompano Seaside, Florida, and relentlessly studied the quarterback place after his son Hezekiah began taking part in it. Jackson’s mom, Felicia Jones, and youth coach, Van Warren, thought Harris was the precise man to refine Lamar’s expertise. Years later, Harris was scripting Jackson’s professional day exercise and charging his scholar to take all 59 snaps from beneath middle — to show to the NFL he might do it.

At that professional day, Harris stated just one NFL assistant engaged him in an prolonged and significant dialog — Ravens quarterbacks coach James City, who knowledgeable Harris he was the Philadelphia Eagles place coach when Michael Vick, Jackson’s childhood idol, was their starter.

“So I used to be like, ‘Wow, they already know methods to use Lamar,'” Harris stated. “That intrigued me. After that day, my chief within the clubhouse was the Ravens. … Different organizations might need tried to mildew Lamar into what they needed him to be.”

James City was employed as Baltimore’s quarterbacks coach in 2018, the identical yr the staff drafted Jackson. AP Picture/Gail Burton

In fact, the sensible coaches design schemes that emphasize their athletes’ strengths, relatively than power their athletes to adapt to an rigid system. Rick Swain was coach at Boynton Seaside Group Excessive College when two of his gamers, Trequan Smith (now at Northern Illinois) and Kyron Brown (now with the New York Jets) raved about a skin-and-bones quarterback who had just transferred into the school. Swain was beyond skeptical. He had run the wing-T offense at Boynton Beach, with a pocket passer, in 2012, and was planning on running a shotgun wing-T in 2013.

“And then we go out the first day of spring practice,” Swain said, “and Lamar stuck his foot in the ground and went 60 yards untouched. I looked at my assistant on offense and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to talk when we go in. We’re changing what we’re doing.’ So we changed the first day we saw him.”

Swain and his staff scoured the internet for the right fit and settled on a version of the pistol offense popularized by Muskegon High School in Michigan. The pistol formation lines up a running back behind the quarterback, who stands closer to the center than he would in the shotgun. “With the running back behind him,” Swain said, “it gave Lamar the ability on the read-option to see what the defense is doing and then to choose from a lot of different things.” Jackson slashed and gashed opposing defenses, and nobody questioned whether major colleges would recruit him. People did question whether major colleges would recruit him to play the only position he wanted to play.

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Swain called Thomas, his former player at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Florida, and told Thomas that he needed to recruit the best athlete Swain had ever coached. Thomas felt disrespected and was no less skeptical about Jackson than Swain was when he first heard about him. If Thomas himself wasn’t the best athlete Swain had ever coached, the Louisville assistant figured that distinction surely belonged to 13-year NBA player and former all-state football star Vernon Maxwell.

“And then I went down,” Thomas said, “and I was amazed at what I saw.”

Thomas told his boss at Louisville that Jackson would be the greatest quarterback in the history of a school that suited up Johnny Unitas and Teddy Bridgewater, and Petrino barked back that Thomas didn’t know anything about the position, even though the former receiver had played with a Heisman Trophy winner (Gino Torretta) and an all-time NFL great (Dan Marino). Thomas persuaded Swain to edit Jackson’s highlight tape — to move his impressive throws ahead of his impressive runs on the video — and then delivered it to Petrino. The Louisville coach kept rewinding Jackson’s flawless 50-yard throws on the run, which the assistant took as an encouraging sign.

“Can we get this guy?” Petrino finally asked.

“I got him,” Thomas answered.

He got Jackson by making a promise to Jackson’s mother that the major in-state recruiters weren’t making: Louisville would never, ever move her son to receiver or defensive back. After Jackson’s father died when Lamar was young, Felicia Jones raised him on her own and fiercely protected his quarterbacking dreams. Jones ran with Lamar in the searing summertime heat, performed contact drills with her son in their yard and lorded over his practice dropbacks in the seaside sand.

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Pat McAfee says Lamar Jackson is doing something that nobody else can do right now in the NFL.

“Lamar was throwing a tight spiral 30 yards at the age of 7,” said one of his youth coaches, Terrance Blue, a friend of Jones’. The men who coached him in Pompano Beach — Blue and Warren and Ron Thurston — all heard from Jackson’s mother that the child they would call Little Michael Vick and Baby Vick would grow up to play Vick’s position. The one and only time Swain moved Lamar to a different spot in high school — to the secondary, to protect a small lead late in a playoff game — he was approached immediately afterward by Lamar’s mother.

“He’s a quarterback, not a safety,” she said.

Early in Jackson’s freshman season at Louisville, Petrino made the mistake of asking the young quarterback to return punts in a practice. “He caught the ball so smoothly too,” said Thomas, who would leave Louisville for Kentucky in 2016, “and he took off running, and everybody was looking at each other like, ‘Holy crap.’ And then we all got inside and checked our phones. I already had a bunch of missed calls.”

Someone had leaked this development to Felicia Jones. Lamar Jackson would never line up at punt returner again.

The kid rebounded from a disastrous first pass at Louisville in 2015 — an interception off a trick play — to use his arm and legs over three seasons to accumulate 13,175 yards, 119 touchdowns and one Heisman Trophy while running a system that co-offensive coordinator Lonnie Galloway described as “the pistol, five wides, 12 personnel, three tight ends, every formation you can imagine.” During one thrashing of Florida State, Vick tweeted, “Lamar Jackson 5x higher than what I used to be at V-Tech.”

After his junior season, Jackson selected to enter the NFL draft, signify himself, rent his mom as his supervisor and refuse to run the 40-yard sprint on the mix to make sure that his velocity (he ran a 4.34 at Louisville) wouldn’t be held in opposition to him. He would later say in a Ravens podcast that he was shocked when a Chargers scout had requested if he would work out as a receiver.

The Ravens traded up into the primary spherical of the 2018 draft to select Jackson at No. 32. AP Picture/Patrick Semansky

Because it turned out, Baltimore made all of the sense on the earth for the all-purpose Jackson. City had labored with Vick, and one other Ravens assistant, Greg Roman, had labored with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Tyrod Taylor with the Buffalo Bills. Ozzie Newsome, the league’s first black general manager and one of its very best executives, was running his final draft for the Ravens and needed a successor to the declining Flacco. Steve Bisciotti, the team owner, knew that his franchise — forever defined by a bone-crushing defense and a methodical offense — desperately needed a dynamic playmaker on offense. Harbaugh, the head coach, knew that he likely wouldn’t survive a fourth straight season of missing the playoffs and that something significant had to change.

Harbaugh talked to Jackson before the draft, then gave his wife the scouting report.

“They just hit it off right away,” she said. “John’s such a positive, open-minded person, and he sees the good in everybody. … We got a steal because everyone passed Lamar up because they didn’t want to go with a running quarterback. But John goes, ‘We can do this. We can mold our offense to him.'”


The Ravens had lost three straight games to fall to 4-5 in 2018, and Flacco had injured his hip. Even though he had three AFC Championship Game appearances and only one losing record in his first 10 seasons, Harbaugh worried for the first time that he might get fired.

The coach stayed with the youngest quarterback to ever start a playoff game, Jackson, who responded with two touchdown passes before getting sacked for the seventh time and fumbling away Baltimore’s final chance.

“At that point in time, Lamar was our quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “So I’m going to take our quarterback out? That’s the main thing. And the second thing, honestly, do you want to win that game? There’s no question in my mind that Lamar gave us the best chance to win that game, even when things weren’t going well. So it was also a football decision.”

And one that meant a ton to the betting favorite to win league MVP.

“Coach Harbaugh showed he was all-in [during that playoff game], and Lamar loved that,” said Harris, Jackson’s personal tutor. “Lamar’s biggest thing is loyalty, and he loves to see his loyalty reciprocated.

“The greatest thing I’ve seen from Coach Harbaugh is he’s bought into who Lamar is. Any time I talk to Lamar about him, he talks about him in an endearing way. He’s Harbs. He’s a person Lamar feels has his back.”

Mike Summers, Louisville’s co-offensive coordinator in 2017, understands how important trust is to Jackson. Summers arrived from the University of Florida after the quarterback’s Heisman season and yet found Jackson still willing to be coached “whenever he sees someone trying to make him better.” The retired Summers praised Harbaugh and his staff for incorporating the pistol principles that were used at Louisville. Harbaugh and Roman have run the pistol on 46% of their offensive plays this season, while the other 31 NFL teams have used that formation on 1% of their plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

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“He could have gone to another team and not nearly be the quarterback he is now,” Summers said of Jackson. “It’s to the Ravens’ credit that they understand that Lamar can make their team into a championship team, while other teams might try to make Lamar into their kind of quarterback instead and limit their chances.”

Jackson worked last offseason on his accuracy, on creating a wider base with his feet, and his completion rate has jumped from last year’s 58.2% to this year’s 66.3%. He leads the NFL in yards per carry (6.9) and ranks 10th in total rushing yards (788). But Jackson also leads the only team to score more than 300 points so far (341), and he ranks third in Total QBR (77.8) and fourth in touchdown passes (19). He has thrown for more scores than Aaron Rodgers.

As Jackson famously said after posting his first perfect passer rating against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, “Not bad for a running back.” Harris is constantly hammering home the point that for all of his unique athleticism, Jackson wants to be as efficient as all the decorated pocket passers who preceded him.

“He wants to be Tom Brady with 4.4 speed,” Harris said.

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Domonique Foxworth would choose Lamar Jackson over Deshaun Watson to start an NFL franchise because of how quickly he has turned around the Ravens’ offense.

On Sunday afternoon, Jackson executed an electrifying dash through the Houston defense that made five defenders miss and nearly matched the spinning, ankle-busting run he made against Cincinnati. He also threw four touchdown passes, completed 13 straight passes after a 1-for-6 start and showed off more arm angles on delivery than you’d find in the most diverse big league bullpen. Yes, Jackson earned those “M-V-P” chants while advancing a season of perfect passer ratings and player of the week awards.

He also showed again why he is Baltimore’s nominee for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. After a wide-open Nick Boyle dropped a pass to end the first quarter, Jackson followed him 30 yards up the sideline to pat him on the helmet. Seated with two teammates in the Ravens news conference room afterward, Jackson insisted Mark Ingram, a nine-year veteran, go ahead of him to the podium so that the running back wouldn’t be left waiting for the second-year quarterback to finish. Ingram thanked him by ending his session with a Michael Buffer-like introduction, calling to the rostrum, “The person … the parable … the legend … the MVP front-runner.”

Solely Jackson not often, if ever, acts that manner. Requested by a fan to quote a very powerful lesson he had realized over the previous yr on a Fb Reside Q&A, Jackson stated, “Simply deal with everyone with respect. I am all about respect. Every day, it doesn’t matter what, who it’s, be form to someone. You by no means know what kind of day they’re having.”

The identical famous person who’s all the time high-fiving followers and who lifted and comforted a photographer he had by accident run over final month (earlier than sending her a direct message to test on her situation and praise the image she took on the play) bounced round his locker room on Sunday to congratulate teammates and pose for a photograph with guests in entrance of his stall.

The Ravens are 14-Three in regular-season video games by which Lamar Jackson has began since he was drafted within the first spherical in 2018. Dan Kubus/Getty Pictures

“His character is so dynamic,” Ingrid Harbaugh stated, “that it lifts everyone up round us.”

Together with her husband. John goes on and on about Lamar’s lovely soccer thoughts and his capability to shortly course of the play clock, the playcall, the personnel and the defensive formation on the fly. Jackson helped Harbaugh earn a four-year contract extension and an opportunity to boost his legacy by successful a second Tremendous Bowl with a radically totally different quarterback than the one who helped win him his first.

In order that’s why Harbaugh let Jackson discuss him into going for it on fourth-and-2 in opposition to the Seattle Seahawks — and the quarterback rewarded his religion with an 8-yard landing run. Harbaugh was hotter than scorching as soon as, as considered one of 4 NFL coaches ever to win 10 postseason video games earlier than struggling his first dropping season. Jackson gave the coach new life, and but Baltimore residents usually thank Harbaugh for giving Lamar an opportunity to play the place he was born to play.

“John goes, ‘It is superb what folks say to me,'” his spouse stated. “John all the time considered him as only a quarterback.”

And a rattling good one too.

For now, the coach no person actually needed is targeted on successful all of it with the franchise participant no person actually needed.

The scary half for all these AFC groups which have been ready and ready for Brady and Belichick to lastly retire?

Jackson and Harbaugh are simply getting began.