What goes through Lamar Jackson's mind on highlight-reel runs? Michael Vick has an idea

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When Michael Vick watches, he sees something he never thought he’d see again.

He sees a little bit of himself, of his 15-year playing career.

He saw it Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens played the San Francisco 49ers, when Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson took a 2nd-and-10 snap in the second quarter and ran for seven yards. 

When Jackson — on a slick field in a downpour — saw Niners cornerback K’wuan Williams creeping toward him and when Jackson, as his weight shifted left, planted his left leg into the soaked turf, only to bob right and dance away with more yards, Williams tumbled to the grass like a felled tree.

“Man, it just happens,” Vick told USA TODAY Sports in a phone call. “Guys become highlights by default. You never know when you’re about to make a highlight. You’re just running for a first down and you don’t want to get hit and you want to score a touchdown. Sometimes you just create a highlight reel on a guy.

“He thought he had you, but you know he didn’t.”

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Lamar Jackson's 101 yards rushing against the 49ers has him 23 yards away from a 1,000-yard rushing season.

Jackson is a progression of Vick, an evolution of what happens when an innovative coaching staff views a player with unique skills and molds an entire scheme to fit his abilities. He’s the leading candidate in the race for the NFL’s most valuable player award and is revolutionizing the way the position is played. He’s as effective flinging passes across the field as he is surging through lanes in designed runs, or — worse for defenders — when he improvises when plays break down.

And when he has the ball in open space, more often than not, he has embarrassed defenders in highlight-reel rushes that seemingly run on endless replay.

“Nah, I don’t chuckle,” Jackson said Wednesday when asked about the juke against Williams of the 49ers. “They trying to hit me. And my job is to not let them hit me. I’m staying safe. I’m trying to get positive yards and I had to make a guy miss. That’s what it was. Then just move on to the next play.”

It's a feeling Vick recalls all too well.

“Oh, man, I turn into a kid again when I seen that daylight,” Vick continued. “You’ve done that so much over the course of your career and your life, it just takes you back to when you played sandlot in the yard, when you got in daylight and there’s four guys coming at you, you just did whatever you could to get past ‘em. You don’t think. You see daylight, you just react. Become a defensive nightmare.”

Jackson is an MVP candidate because of his efficiency in both the rushing and passing game. He has completed 66.5% of his passes for 2,532 yards and 25 touchdowns with only five interceptions. But Jackson has also rushed the ball 140 times for 977 yards, an absurd 7.0 yards per carry average, and has seven rushing scores. When he cracks 1,000 rushing yards, he’ll be just the second quarterback in NFL history to do so in one season, and he’s just 63 yards shy of setting the single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,039), a record held by Vick.

Jackson said Wednesday it would be an “honor” to break Vick’s record, whom Jackson called his “favorite player.” Vick said he feels “proud” about Jackson being the one to almost certainly snap the mark, which has stood since 2006.

When asked how he gashed so many defenses on the ground, Vick said his focus, always, was on the placement of linebackers.

If they’d roll up to the line of scrimmage and show blitz, he’d take a mental note. He’d adjust his protections or would signal for a running back to pick up the pressure. Even if they dropped back in coverage, he’d make a mental note. Because Vick knew that if he needed to scramble on any given play, all he had to do was slip past linebackers and get into the secondary.

Vick suspects that with Jackson, it’s more of the same.

“I'd look at linebackers and they looked so intimidating,” Vick said, “but in my head I was thinking, ‘If I get in daylight, this guy can’t touch me.’”

According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Jackson has posted 71 rushes in which he has accelerated to 15 miles per hour or faster, most of any ball carrier in the league.

Vick set the rushing record in 2006 with the Falcons, the year he said Atlanta started to capitalize more on his athleticism and vision and started to incorporate some Wildcat concepts in the offense. Vick, though, primarily operated in his career out of a West Coast offense, a passing game based on timing and getting the ball accurately to receivers in stride and open space.

With Jackson, it’s different. Coordinator Greg Roman has tailored Baltimore’s scheme specifically to what Jackson does well. Roman has dialed up a massive helping of the Pistol formation, a shotgun-like set with a running back lined up behind the quarterback that allows the Ravens to employ elements from a spread passing offense that fuse with a downhill rushing attack. It also opens the possibility for option plays that harp on misdirection and mislead and confuse defenders.

Headed into Week 9, according to Next Gen Stats, the Ravens had used the Pistol 219 times. The rest of the NFL combined, at that point, had used the grouping just 200 times.

The Ravens are 10-2 and holding onto the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Jackson is just 22 and is still growing. But there was one question Vick could not answer. How do you game plan against Lamar Jackson?

“You can’t,” he said. “I used to go into games thinking on thing: ‘How they gonna try to stop me today?’ Because they really couldn't. If our team did what it had to do, if I did what I had to do, there was too many ways we could attack you. To me, it was: what you see, what you feel, your knowledge of the game, and then instincts take over. I racked my brain trying to think of how defensive coordinators were going to try to stop me because there wasn’t a blueprint. For Lamar, it’s just more of the same.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.

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