“Backyard football” is an almost insultingly simplistic way to describe the brilliance of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, but for a while this year that was the best the NFL’s MVP could muster. Stuck at home during a pandemic, Jackson was one of many athletes looking to stay in football shape while the outside world was unavailable to him. And so Jackson went in his backyard and did what he could to get ready for the follow-up to one of the most electrifying sophomore seasons in NFL history.
Unlike the seemingly thousands of people who flooded your social media pages learning to bake sourdough bread or watch Tiger King, Jackson said he didn’t find any weird hobbies while enduring life in quarantine. For him, the weirdness was turning his backyard into a practice facility.
“I was training in my backyard, trying to stay fit,” Jackson told Uproxx Sports last week in an interview detailing a charity initiative through Lowe’s. “That’s all I was doing. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.”
Perhaps Jackson had some quarantine fascinations we’ll never know, but focusing on the path forward is a common theme when talking to Jackson. He shattered NFL records in 2019, throwing for more than 3,100 yards and 36 touchdowns while adding another 1,200 yards on the ground. But even those credentials were not enough to bend the rules and get him on a football field for most of the offseason.
“I couldn’t go throw at a field or anything like that because the police would stop us,” Jackson said. “Fans would come out, stuff like that. So I stayed away from everything, stayed in the backyard.”
Jackson said the transition from Marty Mornhinweg’s offense to Greg Roman taking over as offensive coordinator in 2019 gave him a lot of work to do between his first and second years in the league, but the rapport is now there to make Year 3 a much more comfortable experience. The difference from his rookie year certainly showed up on the stat sheet for Jackson, who said the game really does slow down as you get more experience.
“Going from my rookie season you’re just going out there — I don’t want to say a chicken with your head cut off but, man, it’s different from college,” Jackson said. “Because these guys are a lot faster. The guys are a lot smarter in the league, I’d say. Everyone’s a five-star player, so it’s totally different than it was in college. There are no walk-ons in the league so I just had to prepare well and like you said, I got a lot more comfortable and found myself in the system.”
It also helps that he continues to thrive with Ravens tight end Mark Andrews. Jackson raved about one of his favorite targets, calling him a “character” that makes his job easier.
“Sometimes he just stops doing his route when the defense is zoning, things like that,” Jackson said. “He’s always finding a window for me to give him a great ball to throw. He makes my job a lot easier, we just have a great connection playing ball.”
Jackson is part of a crew of NFL players representing all 32 teams and cities around the country, but the reigning NFL MVP is arguably the biggest name on the list along with his co-captain, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. Called the Lowe’s “Home Team,” the group works to create “safe and affordable housing repairs, small business support, veterans’ outreach or disaster recovery” in each NFL city. For Jackson, that’s focusing on a United Way Family Center in Poppleton at Excel Academy.
“It’s wonderful for me. For Lowe’s to reach out and want a partnership with me, it was great,” Jackson said. “Just to give back to Baltimore, it’s an honor for me.”
Jackson admitted that, in a sense, getting back to football and working with brands offers a sense of normalcy in what’s been an extremely weird year for everyone.
“It’s a lot easier for me because it’s something I wanted to do: give back to the community in Baltimore,” Jackson said. “Because all I can do is focus on football and that’s it. So it’s a lot easier, yeah it is.”