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Fullback Kyle Juszczyk Could Catch 40-50 Passes


During last year's training camp, fullback Kyle Juszczyk's neck got so scratched up and raw from brutal goal-line drills that he wore a turtle neck undershirt to cover it up.

During Tuesday's organized team activities, Juszczyk suffered another scratch.

This time it was on his elbow, the result of dunking a ball over the goalpost after a touchdown.

Besides the impressive ups, it showed how much Juszczyk's role will change this year. In new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's offense, Juszczyk will be a Swiss Army knife. He'll line up all over the field from out wide, to on the end of the line and in the backfield. He'll catch passes and lead block too.

After catching zero passes as a rookie last season, Juszczyk could have a big season in 2014.

"Coach Kubiak has said in our meetings that he could see me catching 40 or 50 balls this year, which would be a great start," Juszczyk said. "I wouldn't mind that one bit."

To put that in perspective, if Juszczyk had caught 40 passes last year, he would have ranked third on the team, ahead of wide receiver Jacoby Jones. If he caught 50 passes, he would have been second, ahead of wideout Marlon Brown and only trailing Torrey Smith.

Last year, Cleveland's Chris Ogbonnaya led the NFL's fullbacks in receptions with 48. So if Juszczyk hits Kubiak's range, he'll be among or atop the league leaders.

Of course, Juszczyk said he's just focused on catching whatever Flacco throws his way – not the stats. But the lofty prediction, especially coming from Kubiak, shows the team's desire to get Juszczyk the ball.

Last year, the fourth-round rookie was given a shot to win the starting job over the summer, but he wasn't ready for the lead blocking required in the offense. The Ravens brought back former Pro Bowler Vonta Leach and Juszczyk was limited mostly to special teams.

The Ravens released Leach on Feb. 27, a month after hiring Kubiak, knowing the offense better suited the younger, more nimble Juszczyk. Juszczyk was excited about Kubiak's addition and has become even more smitten since taking the field for OTAs.

"It's been even better than I had expected," he said. "I think it fits our personnel really well and I've always been a fan of the two-back, two tight-end offense. That's exactly what we are. I think it's going to be really effective."

The Harvard product said the Ravens' new offense is similar in some ways to what he ran in college. It naturally fits him. That's not the only reason he feels more confident.

"This season has already been so much better for so many different reasons," Juszczyk said. "I love the new offense, I love what they have me doing, I love that I'm getting more time with the first team. But this is also my second year, and, man, what a difference a second year makes.

"I'm just so much more comfortable with the guys, how things are run around the facility, just playing at this level. I just feel way more like I can be myself and play and not think as much."

Kubiak said he's been "very impressed" with what he's seen from Juszczyk so far in practice. Juszczyk has displayed quickness no matter where he's lined up and has soft hands. He'll also be a handful for defenders to bring down.

The true test for a fullback, and specifically of Juszczyk' s blocking (which is a key element) will come once the pads are on. But in terms of a bona fide offensive weapon, Juszczyk looks the part.

"He reminds me a lot of a kid I had for a couple of years, James Casey," Kubiak said. "He played really well for me. He's athletic and can make some plays down the field. I like fullbacks that can run because there's such a separation between them and the tailbacks. 'Juice' has responded well."

Juszczyk could turn out to be Casey-plus. Casey's best year in Houston was in 2012, when he caught 34 passes. Kubiak sees Juszczyk' s ceiling even higher.

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