KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had his doubters coming into the NFL, but Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was never among them. It's his respect for Jackson that makes him wary of facing the Baltimore offense in Sunday's home opener at Arrowhead Stadium.
“It's the guy that's taking the snaps is a heck of a football player,” Reid said after Friday's practice in preparation for taking on Jackson and the Ravens. “They've got a good offensive line, he's got good skill players around him, they're well coached, the whole thing.”
The Chiefs got a first-hand look at Jackson last season. The then-rookie quarterback completed 13-of-24 passing for 147 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 67 yards on the ground on 14 carries. Only a dramatic fourth-and-9 conversion from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill allowed the Chiefs to force overtime before escaping with a 27-24 victory.
If the first two weeks of 2019 are any indication, however, Jackson appears more confident and comfortable than he did a season ago. He's average almost 300 yards passing per game while completing nearly 72 percent of his passes. He's throw seven touchdowns and no turnovers in victories over Miami and Arizona, while averaging another 63 yards per game rushing.
He's not the raw rookie the Chiefs saw a year ago, Reid says.
“Just knowing the offense better,” Reid said. “He's got a great grasp of it and it looks like he's comfortable. He's a good football player.
Last year the Chiefs prepared for Jackson by using speedy Tremon Smith, a former all-state quarterback, as a scout team quarterback to prepared for Jackson. The Chiefs waived Smith last week and hoped he would clear waivers to return on the practice squad, in part to play Jackson again this week.
That honor instead fell to rookie practice squad cornerback Alex Brown. Brown posted a strong 4.42-second 40-yard time during his pro day in the spring at South Carolina State. He rushed for 950 yards on just 54 carries as a senior at Lake Marion High School in Santee, South Carolina, as a wildcat quarterback.
“You put somebody out there that's real fast and shifty,” said Reid, who declined to specify who the team used as Jackson's stand in. “We did that.”
But the Chiefs remain wary of Jackson and has improving passing ability, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said.
“He can wreck the football game with his feet, and I think he’s becoming a real good drop back passer,” Spagnuolo said.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu said he believes Jackson “has one of the prettiest deep balls for a quarterback in the league.” But defensive the Chiefs would rather let the Ravens beat them deep rather than allow Jackson and his playmakers to operate in space.
“I think defensively we've got to challenge him, challenge his wide receivers,” Mathieu said. “They're not a really big group. They can run, but they're not really big. I think it's important for us to challenge them at the line of scrimmage and just force him to throw the ball over our heads.”