Jackson’s absence puts extra spotlight on Ravens backups

National Sports

BALTIMORE (AP)It goes without saying that if Lamar Jackson misses any significant time this season, the Baltimore Ravens will have all sorts of challenges on their hands.

With the star quarterback out at the beginning of training camp because of a positive COVID-19 test, the Ravens are now getting more of a look at who might replace Jackson in the event of an absence down the road.

Baltimore’s backups – Trace McSorley, Robert Griffin III, and Tyler Huntley – combined to attempt only 29 passes last season. With Griffin gone, McSorley and Huntley are the main candidates to be the No. 2 option, and they’re under more of a spotlight than expected with Jackson out.

”You’ve seen them out there every single day. They’ve been on target,” coach John Harbaugh said after the team held a practice at M&T Bank Stadium last weekend. ”To take it now and transfer it to the stadium with the fans in there, to operate the offense the way they did, it’s a great step for them. … The next step will be when the pads come on on Tuesday and then after that into the (preseason) games.”

When Jackson missed a game at Pittsburgh last season following another positive test, Griffin and McSorley replaced him in a 19-14 loss. When Jackson left Baltimore’s playoff loss at Buffalo with a concussion, it was Huntley who tried unsuccessfully to rescue the Ravens.

Huntley was an undrafted rookie last season and appeared in only two regular-season games. He actually played against Jackson while at Hallandale High School in Florida. Huntley was one of the Pac-12’s top offensive players when he was a senior at Utah.

McSorley was a sixth-round draft pick by the Ravens out of Penn State in 2019. He appeared in one game as a rookie and two last season, and a knee injury landed him on injured reserve last December.

The Ravens’ first preseason game is Aug. 14 against New Orleans. They seem confident Jackson will be back before too long, but his recent positive test was still a bit jarring.

”I was mad, because it was like, `Dang, he got COVID again.’ That’s my boy,” Huntley said. ”It’s always good to have him around. He brings the spirit around. He just has the whole facility feeling different. So, it was like, `Dang, we’re going to miss him for 10 days.’ But once he comes back, he’s going to be on his thing.”

Until then, Huntley and McSorley will try to make the most of their chances.

”(We want to) control all the things we can control, and whatever opportunities, reps we can get, take advantage of it, because sometimes you don’t always get those reps … really just use that time to build chemistry with these guys who we will be working with in the preseason,” McSorley said.

With so little experience behind Jackson, it might seem like a good spot for a veteran backup – but at this point, Harbaugh doesn’t sound too eager to acquire one. Jackson is one of the most unique talents in the game because of his running ability. He’s rushed for over 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons.

McSorley and Huntley aren’t going to replicate that, but McSorley is Penn State’s career leader in yards rushing by a quarterback, and in his very limited action during the 2020 regular season, Huntley produced more on the ground (23 yards on 10 carries) than through the air (15 yards on five attempts).

”We like those two guys – they fit our offense well. Are there veterans out there that might fit our offense well? There might be,” Harbaugh said. ”You can look at those guys, but there’s not a lot. There are a lot of quarterbacks out there, but do they fit us? To me, these guys fit us a lot better than most of the guys out there, and they’re good players.”

Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister

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