FOXBOROUGH — Lamar Jackson knew all the answers.
Questions swirled around Jackson coming out of college. Critics and draftniks poked holes in his game. Was he better suited as a running back? Was he more of a trick-play specialist? Could he be an effective pocket passer? Was he a winner?
Since taking over as the Ravens’ starting quarterback in Week 11 of the 2018 season, Jackson, whom the Patriots will face on Sunday, has silenced all the critics and answered all the questions.
“Without a doubt,” Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “He’s the type of player [that’s an] MVP-type candidate. I think he’s more than answered them.”
The Patriots coach said if there’s still any doubters, Jackson’s next deal — he’s a free agent at season’s end — should be the closing point.
“We’ll see what his contract is, that will answer them,” Belichick said with a smile.
Blessed with a powerful arm and the lightest feet in the business, Jackson is showing now that he’s a more polished and complete quarterback than he’s ever been.
Jackson can make deep throws look effortless, can zip balls into tight windows on intermediate passes, and displays a feathery touch on the shorties.
He was born for the RPO game, where his quick thinking and quick feet often leave defenders flatfooted and out of position.
“There’s challenges every week, but certainly the Ravens have a lot of them,” said Belichick. “It’s their quarterback, it’s his passing game, the running game, his ability to make loose and extended plays, the explosiveness of their receivers and tight ends and [Jackson]. So, there’s challenges every week. We’ll do the best we can to defend those threats and schemes that they run.”
Devin McCourty said it’s notable how much Jackson has improved and how much more patient he is since he entered the league five seasons ago.
“I think the hardest thing is his reading the defense. When you’re in zone, you can see he sees that. He stays in the pocket. He knows that within that zone, his guy’s going to uncover, he’s going to have time,” said the Patriots safety. “When you’re in man, he still wants to keep his eyes down the field. But if that lane opens up and he sees all the routes are going the other direction, he knows there’s trouble for you. And you’ll see him take off and you’ll see big plays happen like that. So, I think that’s just his ability.”
McCourty also noted that Jackson is among a bunch of signal-callers who have made marked improvements simply because they’ve gotten more snaps under their belts.
“I think each year, when you talk about some of these quarterbacks that were younger a few years ago, you’re starting to see whether it’s him, [Bills quarterback] Josh Allen, you’re seeing these guys now [and] the mental part of the game just comes so much easier for them,” he said.
Belichick said he had a “great” predraft visit with Jackson at Gillette Stadium and called him a “really interesting guy.”
Jackson said that visit was memorable for him, as well.
“Usually, when I see [Coach Belichick], he’s puzzled face, a straight-faced guy. When I saw him smile, I was like, ‘Damn, you’ve got humor,’ ” Jackson said. “I told him that, and he was like, ‘Yeah.’ I’m like, ‘I wasn’t expecting you to be smiling.’ ”
The Patriots traded Justin Herron and a 2024 seventh-round draft pick to the Raiders Wednesday, a league source confirmed. New England received a 2024 sixth-round selection in exchange for the offensive tackle.
Herron played zero snaps through two weeks but did start 10 games since being drafted in the sixth round in 2020. He was behind starters Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn, as well as Yodny Cajuste, on the depth chart.
Herron played his first two professional seasons with Josh McDaniels, now the Raiders’ head coach, as his offensive coordinator.
The Patriots have Marcus Cannon and Kody Russey on the practice squad and it’s likely one or both could be elevated for Sunday’s game.
Herron’s spot on the 53-man roster was taken by defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale, who finished serving a two-game league suspension for an unspecified reason.
Safety Kyle Dugger, who hurt his knee in last Sunday’s win over the Steelers, and receiver Jakobi Meyers, who is also dealing with a knee issue, were present for the stretching portion of practice Wednesday but were officially categorized as “did not participate.”
The Patriots also listed six players as limited: safeties Adrian Phillips (ribs) and Joshuah Bledsoe (groin); linebacker Raekwon McMillan (thumb); defensive linemen Davon Godchaux (back) and DaMarcus Mitchell (knee); and special teamer Cody Davis (calf).
In Baltimore, Jackson wore a sleeve on his right arm and didn’t throw at practice, though the quarterback and coach John Harbaugh said Jackson will be good to go Sunday.
The Patriots have begun honoring practice players of the week again by having them wear black jerseys during the following week’s workouts. The tradition had been missing the last few seasons. Rookie defensive end Sam Roberts as well as practice squadders Cannon, tight end Matt Sokol, and receiver Laquon Treadwell, were spotted in black Wednesday … The Patriots added kicker Tristan Vizcaino to the practice squad, taking the place of cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who was signed by the Titans. Vizcaino was here throughout training camp but was released on cutdown day … Vince Wilfork, who will be enshrined in the Patriots Hall of Fame Saturday, will be at Gillette Stadium Thursday to unveil his red Patriots jacket.