There is no hurry this season for Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley to prove he is a legitimate NFL starter.
The 2020 undrafted free agent out of Utah has played well in the Ravens’ first two preseason games, completing 29 of 32 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. He is averaging 7.4 yards per attempt with a passer rating of 118.5.
After each game, there is always buzz about how Huntley could start for other NFL teams and even speculation about him being the quarterback of the future if the Ravens don’t sign Lamar Jackson to a long-term contract.
Right now, who cares? Really.
If Huntley, 24, becomes the starting quarterback this season, the Ravens are in trouble. Big trouble. Huntley started four games for Jackson at the end of last season and finished 1-3 as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
So, it’s all about perspective, and coach John Harbaugh has the right approach. Let’s be mindful that Harbaugh very seldom criticizes his players publicly, especially around training camp.
Despite the team’s 22-game winning streak in preseason games, he is realistic.
“No doubt, you have to keep it in perspective. It’s still the preseason,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not as intense, it’s not as ramped up as the regular season, a lot of [top] players aren’t out there playing and there’s not as much at stake.”
This is not to take anything away from Huntley, who is on a hot streak. The passing game has been successful, the communication seems to be on point and he has formed great chemistry with rookie tight end Isaiah Likely.
What’s not to like?
“I think the experience definitely plays a part in it,” Huntley said of his development. “Just going on my third year, I’ve seen a couple different defenses, and I’ve got a great feel for the offense right now, and I’m just taking what the defense gives me, and it’s continuing to work time after time. So, I’ll just continue to build on that.”
We saw similar signs last year. In fact, while in training camp, Huntley threw the ball better than Jackson. His passes had more zip and he had better touch on the long ball. If given the opportunity under the right circumstances, he could succeed in the short term.
Huntley did last season, completing 64.9% of his passes for 1,081 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. In his first career start against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 21, filling in for an ill Jackson, he completed 26 of 36 passes for 219 yards and led a late touchdown drive in a 16-13 victory. He passed for 270 yards and a touchdown in a 24-22 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 12 and 215 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-30 defeat to the Green Bay Packers a week later.
Then opposing defensive coordinators started breaking down film of Huntley. They started jamming his receivers off the line of scrimmage and forcing him to go through his progressions. Then he got the Jackson treatment, with teams blitzing from the outside to force him to step up in the pocket. In his last two starts, he was sacked eight times and threw three interceptions as the Ravens lost to the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ravens’ playoff chances came crashing down at the end of the season, and so did all this crazy talk around town about Huntley being the permanent replacement for Jackson, the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player.
Oh yes, it got that ridiculous.
That won’t happen this season, at least that’s the hope. The Ravens are in a great situation with their quarterbacks because Huntley is the perfect stop-gap answer.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Jackson and the 6-1, 195-pound Huntley have similar skill sets as far as being able to move in the pocket and improvise. Of course, Jackson is a better runner, but when both are sprinting full speed down the sideline, their long strides are nearly identical.
With Huntley in, there is no need to modify or make major alterations to the offense. The Ravens believe they are unbeatable with Jackson, but also confident they can win with Huntley.
And while the Ravens are competitive with Huntley, they are one of the best teams in the AFC with Jackson. That’s why there is no need for Huntley to prove himself yet. His time will come, just hopefully not in 2022.
“You have to improve across the board,” Harbaugh said of Huntley. “The timing, the precision is really continuing to go on a trajectory that you want to see. We’ve seen that in both preseason games. The way that he’s operating the offense, communication has been really good. He’s getting out and scrambling and making plays with his feet and keeping the defense honest that way.”
But, it’s only the preseason.