With Jackson, WR additions, Monken has high hopes for Ravens
By NOAH TRISTER
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Todd Monken took a leap of faith when he left Georgia to become the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens.
At that point, it wasn't clear if Lamar Jackson would still be the quarterback.
“I was imagining that, planning on him being here," Monken said Wednesday. “Because if he wouldn’t have been ... that dream turns into a nightmare.”
Monken can rest a little easier now, because at this point it looks as if his move will have every chance to pay off.
Not only did the Ravens finally reach a five-year deal with Jackson, but they also added a couple of potential difference-makers at wide receiver. Baltimore signed Odell Beckham Jr. last month and drafted Zay Flowers in the first round.
Now it's up to the new coordinator to make the whole operation work. It's a roster that looks a good deal better - particularly in the passing game - than it did when Monken took over shortly after last season.
“It’s a lot more fun that way," he said. "You’re paid to move the football and score, and that’s a lot easier with talented players. As I always say, ‘Cookies taste better with sugar than they do with vinegar.’ So, you surround yourself with sugar.”
The No. 1 question - now and for the past few seasons - is how best to take advantage of Jackson's unique skill set. He has a career passer rating of 96.7, and his running ability makes him one of the best dual threats the game has seen. But the competition is stiff in the AFC, and aside from Jackson's MVP season of 2019, there's a sense the Ravens haven't been as threatening on offense as they could have been.
Giving Jackson more receiving help could go a long way toward changing that. The Ravens are hoping for a healthier season for Rashod Bateman, a wideout they took in the first round in 2021 who has battled injuries and played only 18 games so far.
“We’re excited about - one - getting Bateman back healthy. The other guys that have been here, that the organization drafted, it’s our job, our duty, we’re in the development business, to develop them and to maximize their measurable skill set,” Monken said. “And, the additions of Nelson (Agholor) and Odell and Zay to add to the room. So, I’m excited when they all get here to see that and see the competition.”
One big difference between the NFL and college is the more even distribution of talent. Monken may have a bigger challenge this year than he did with Georgia's national championship teams the past two seasons.
“At Georgia, we had probably a lot bigger advantages in terms of choices, in terms of who you had and the matchups that you had, where here you don’t,” he said. “So you just try to surround them with the most talent you can.”
Jackson's ability to take matters into his own hands by running the ball is huge asset, but it also puts his body at risk in a way that a more efficient passing game might not. That will be one of the biggest subplots of Baltimore's season: Can the Ravens produce more big plays with Jackson's arm?
“I think the more talented you are around your quarterback, the less he has to take on that burden, shoulder the load, because you’re excited about getting others the football where they can utilize their skill set," Monken said. "As you get further into your career, as Lamar gets older - as everybody does - you want to take some of that off of the player as best you can.
"But he has a unique trait, a unique skill set. You can’t take that completely out of his toolbox because that’s a huge weapon for him and for us, is using his feet.”
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
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Updated May 10, 2023