What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
With the ascendance of Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson to the top of the heap in terms of the fan vote for the Pro Bowl, I’ve been getting a lot of flak about “being wrong” about him. Well, I’m not. In fact, Lamar Jackson is proving me to be right about something else I said seven years ago about another Heisman-trophy winning quarterback who was more runner than passer.
To understand this, let’s fully understand what I actually said about Jackson. The common misconception is that I said Lamar Jackson would never be a successful NFL quarterback. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I actually said is that Lamar Jackson is likely to end up another running quarterback whose career gets cut short because of the pounding his body is going to take. In short, I said he was Robert Griffin III waiting to happen. Your Honor, I present Exhibit A:
“Conveniently enough, they are both on the same roster. Hopefully, he is warning Jackson about what happens to running quarterbacks in this league. Let’s be honest, if anybody leaned that lesson in the NFL, it was him. Like it or not, the National Football League is all about protecting quarterbacks, and nearly all those protections evaporate the second the quarterback pulls down the ball and flees the pocket.”
There’s no arguing with a single word of that. RGIII was an electrifying player until his first knee injury. Say what you will, he was never the same after that. Lamar Jackson is an electrifying player now, but the odds are not in his favor for that being sustainable long-term. Your Honor, I present Exhibit B:
“History doesn’t lie. Right now, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are still playing top-flight football in their 40s, these are two guys who don’t leave the pocket much. Right now, do you know who else is 40? Michael Vick. Do you care to hazard a guess where he is as you read this? He’s probably in a cryo-therapy tub because he got the absolute shit beaten out of him during his career…which don’t forget had a two-year intermission which allowed to heal up from the first half of his career.”
There’s another example of this unfolding right now. As you read this, the Carolina Panthers have a decision to make about Cam Newton. The past five years have seen him go from Super Bowl contender and league MVP to a guy who is a bag of broken parts. Newton is only 30, and his career as we know it is over. He may make it back on the field at some point, but any player who depended on his mobility to make things happen who now has blown-out feet is never going to be the same.
The closest I came to a criticism of Lamar Jackson came in the following statements:
“…the fact remains that even his most ardent supporters admit “there’s room for him to grow.” What that is “code” for is Jackson has tantalizing athletic ability, but as a pure passer, he shows just enough flashes of brilliance to keep drawing interest from a quarterback-hungry league…”
“…this guy never impressed me in college. He racked up fat numbers against the Wake Forests of the world, and disappeared against real talent. Whatever progress he makes as a passer will disappear when he’s pressured, then he will revert to what he does best…”
The key here is “growth.” Within the past year, even within the framework of this season, the Lamar Jackson who got his ass handed to him by the Cleveland Browns is not the same Lamar Jackson we see today. Yes, this was a guy who short-hopped open receivers and threw the ball into opposing team meetings. Those things are changing, because there has clearly been a growth process, and there is a very solid reason as to why. John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens read Dubsism; they subscribed to and enacted my “Tim Tebow Theory.”
In short, the “Tebow Theory” stated that at some point, an NFL team was going to build an offense around a “non-traditional” quarterback, meaning the guy who isn’t the prototypical “pocket passer.” Again, there’s really no denying that’s exactly what the Ravens did. That becomes plainly obvious when you look at the changes made to the Raven offense while making the transition from the prototypical pocket passer in Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson, who is anything but.
The over-arching theme here is the Raven offense scheme under offensive coordinator Greg Roman is all about not putting Lamar Jackson in situations that push him out of his comfort zone. There are reasons why the Ravens’ offense today looks a lot like that of the General Neyland’s Tennessee Volunteers of 80 years ago. There are reason’s why John Harbaugh and Greg Roman climbed into the “Wayback Machine.” Those reasons just so happen to be the very same ones I pointed in 2013.
1) Because the College Game is Producing more “Tebow-Like Guys” of Consequence Than “Traditional” Quarterbacks
What I Said Then:
Before I go any further, I’m going to have to define “Tebow-Like Guy (TLG).” What I mean specifically by the term TLG is a quarterback who doesn’t fit the current NFL definition of what a quarterback should be. According to the convention, NFL quarterbacks are 6’3″ guys who stay in the pocket and throw the ball, period. That’s Tebow’s main problem; it isn’t that he might be a shitty quarterback, the league is full of those. His problem is the fact that he represents a challenge to the conventional wisdom.
If you doubt that, remember that there is an occasional dispensation from this rule; Drew Brees has been allowed into the fold as shown on the list of the twenty most recent Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, not because he’s won a Super Bowl, but because he owns some big-time passing records. Granted, Tebow isn’t the sort of guy who is going to throw for 5,000 yards, but if he manages to win a couple of Super Bowls, I bet he gets let into the club.
Replace the words “Tim Tebow” with the words “Lamar Jackson” and tell me that isn’t still a true statement.
2) The “Conventional Wisdom” is Already Cracking
What I Said Then:
Ever since Curly Lambeau brought the forward pass to the NFL, the passing game has never stopped growing in it’s favor with both fans and coaches. That’s why the majority of quarterbacks on the Dubsism List of The 30 Greatest of All-Time, the majority either played in the pass-happy post “1978 Rule Change” era, or were gunslingers before their time. But it is only in the past couple of decades where the pure “pocket passer” quarterback has taken over.
Ironically, it is in that same post-1978 era where the “non-traditional” quarterback has really had some major impact. While 1978 was at the end of the careers of Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton, these two Hall-of-Fame “non-traditional” quarterbacks were a major reason the “Mel Blount rule” (the one that outlawed “bump-and-run” pass coverage and changed the definition of pass interference) was implemented, so that more quarterbacks who couldn’t extend a play with their legs could get as many open receivers as these guys did. There’s no accident that with in two years of the passing of the “Mel Blount rule,” the Los Angeles Rams were led to a Super Bowl by Vince Ferragamo, a pass-happy CFL quarterback.
But no quarterback did more to perpetuate the value of the “non-traditional” quarterback than Randall Cunningham. Not only did Cunningham’s high-wire act in Philadelphia electrify the NFL, his transition to the ring-leader of a record-setting 550+ offense that may very be the NFL last, purest example of a truly “vertical” passing game. Ever since then, NFL GMs have been drafting “athletic” quarterbacks in the hope of finding the gold we first saw in Philadelphia green. Don’t tell me the Buffalo Bills wouldn’t love to be able to call E.J. Manuel “another Randall Cunningham.” The same goes for the Jets and Geno Smith.
What it boils down to is NFL teams are all so desperate to win, and win now, that they are already willing to go outside the accepted norms. It is just a matter of time before somebody figures out the right way to do it. Again, the concept of team construction is a crucial one; more on that is coming in a bit.
Please tell which part of that statement is no longer true. Start by looking at names we’ve come to know since this time…names like Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson.
3) Because It Will Be A “Nothing To Lose” Decision
What I Said Then:
Look at the three facts mentioned in the opening. Coaches and general managers win or get fired…with no exceptions. Even Norv Turner eventually got a pink slip. So, if you are an NFL coach/GM with a team that hasn’t seen a winning season and you can’t get the “traditional” quarterback, you have two choices. You can either try the “square peg/round hole” approach which you’ve seen fail countless times get a bunch of coaches and GMs fired, or you can roll the dice on a whole new system. Like I said, so far we’ve seen an NFL graveyard full of headstones etched with “this quarterback solves all of our problems.” Just like #2, at some point, somebody is going to take a shot going outside the box, by not only going “non-traditional” quarterback, but by committing to build around him.
It doesn’t take the super-computer at NASA to figure out that Lamar Jackson was drafted by the Ravens as a “project.” Don’t forget that at the time, Joe Flacco was still Baltimore’s “franchise” quarterback, and he was being paid as such. Nobody saw Flacco’s injury and subsequent demise as an effective NFL signal-caller, which means the Jackson “project” took center-stage well before it was obviously intended to.
The early days of the Jackson era in Baltimore bear that out. At best, Jackson was a fair-to-middlin’ quarterback, and that’s being kind. In 2019, Jackson leads the fan voting for the Pro Bowl, and looks like and odds-on favorite to win the league MVP.
So, how did the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson go from dire straits to the top of the mountain? The key to that lies in something else I said; this time regarding who would actually make such a move to a “non-traditional” quarterback. I originally said whoever made such a move would fit at least two of these three categories:
#1 is dead-on about the Ravens, specifically their offensive coordinator Greg Roman…who just so happens to be the only guy who ever got anything appreciable out of Colin Kaepernick when he held the same role for the 49ers. #2 didn’t need to be done; it was easy to build on offense committed to the running game behind a front five which was already one of the best in the game. But #3 is why for all the praise being heaped upon Jackson, an equal amount of credit needs to go to John Harbaugh and Greg Roman for having the nerve to change everything they did offensively to give Jackson the framework in which he is clearly succeeding. Just think what would have happened had the Jackson experiment had failed…Harbaugh and Roman might very well be looking for new jobs. After all, Harbaugh was rumored to be on the chopping block in Baltimore last year.
The bottom line is this. Not only am I not wrong about what I’ve said about Lamar Jackson, but what he, John Harbaugh and Greg Roman are doing in Baltimore right now proves a point I made about the NFL almost seven years ago.
Change my mind.
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