Baltimore Sun

10 things to watch as Ravens look forward

Jackson’s progressio­n, steady O-line play among most pivotal

- Mike Preston

The Ravens concluded offseason training activities and their mandatory minicamp this week, so the roster is basically set for training camp, which begins in late July.

There might be some late additions, such as signing a free-agent pass rusher or another defensive lineman. The biggest possible news would be signing Lamar Jackson to a long-term contract, which might make him the highest-paid quarterbac­k in the NFL.

With little going on, it’s time to look ahead at the 10 biggest storylines heading into the Ravens’ training camp and preseason games:

Lamar Jackson’s progressio­n

Jackson has been the focal point of this team ever since he became the starter in the second half of his rookie season in 2018.

There has been a lot of discussion about his superb record during the regular season, his rushing ability and his league Most Valuable Player award in 2019. There has also been criticism of his poor mechanics, which includes an occasional sidearm throwing motion and nervous feet in the pocket.

Jackson’s career is beyond all of that now. The bottom line is, can he throw accurately and consistent­ly enough down the field and outside the numbers to beat quality teams in the playoffs when they stack the line of scrim

look up and he’s hitting .300, he’s got 10 homers already. He’s not one of those guys where you say he’s had a hot week or a hot month. It’s just steady.

“You don’t really get a grasp in three days, but over the course of the year, it’s like, you just continue to look at the numbers and I mean, am I just getting used to it? Am I getting comfortabl­e knowing this is what I’m going to get day-in and day-out? Him hitting a home run, I just slap his hand around third. It’s not a big deal anymore.”

Rutschman entered Thursday’s game with the Baysox batting .295 with a .992 OPS and 10 home runs while walking more times (30) than he’s struck out (29). He’s played in every one of Bowie’s 37 games and had either a hit or a walk in 34 of them.

When the Orioles selected him No. 1 overall in the 2019 draft, this is what they expected: standout defense behind the plate, big league-caliber hitting, power from both sides of the plate and an advanced eye for the strike zone. The latter has been evident throughout his time as a profession­al, even in the limited action he’d get in big league spring training games.

Rutschman is aggressive on pitches he knows he can drive and knows which pitches not to swing at, to a degree that’s impressing everyone on the Baysox staff.

“We had that conversati­on at the beginning of the year,” Bowie hitting coach Ryan Fuller said. “Everyone knows you’re 1-1. They’re going to pitch really carefully to you. They’re not going to try and give you anything down the middle. 3-0, 3-1, 2-0 counts where you think you’re going to get a heater, you’re going to get a changeup, you’re going to get a slider.

“He’s really embraced that, so going up with one clear intention, here’s what I’m trying to do, and if they don’t give it to me, I’m going to go to first base, take second, get to third and then somebody else is going to knock me in. Obviously, he’s a star. He’s going to be so special. But he’s a team guy, too. He’s not going to go up there and chase just to get his numbers up.”

Rutschman’s magnetic personalit­y and the way he not only works with pitchers but helps his fellow hitters is part of the reputation he built as a college star at Oregon State. He said developing that rapport with a new group of players is always the “toughest part” of a transition, but it’s not the production at the plate or the work behind it that he enjoys the most.

“I think it’s being around the guys,” Rutschman said. “With the group that we have, it makes it fun to be at the ballpark every day. That’s what makes up the majority of your time, being around the guys. When you have a good group like this, you get excited to come.”

Britton said Rutschman is a “silent leader,” one pitchers feel comfortabl­e coming to talk to about their game plan and position players see working so hard that Britton has to sometimes rein him in.

Few in the Orioles system, or anywhere in the minors, have had the sustained success Rutschman has enjoyed this year.

“When you watch him, you’re awed every day,” Fuller said. “He’ll miss a ball and it will still go out. He can overpower guys, but I think the nice part about this coaching staff is we understand he’s Adley Rutschman, but he’s pushed like every other guy here.

“He has certain things he has to work on to get to be more consistent at the next level, and he’s really appreciati­ve of that and he doesn’t get any special treatment. Like all the other guys, we’re trying to get them ready for Camden Yards, not just have one year of success at Double-A.”

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