Mark Andrews doesn’t believe in sophomore slumps, setting limits, or resting on his impressive rookie season.
What does Andrews believe? That he’s a better player than last year, when he led all NFL rookie tight ends in receiving yards (552) while catching 34 passes for three touchdowns.
That strong start to his NFL career, coupled with the chemistry he established with quarterback Lamar Jackson, has left many expecting Andrews to have a breakout season, perhaps in line to be Jackson’s top target in 2019.
Andrews is extremely confident, so he doesn’t shy from expectations. But as he focuses on improving during training camp, Andrews is excited not just about his own potential, but about the diversity of the Ravens’ offense.
“I still have a ton to prove,” Andrews said following Thursday’s practice. “In my head, I have high expectations and I plan to meet them, but I’m excited for this year. We’re going to have a bunch of great guys. There are a lot of great skill position guys that it’s going to be tough for defenses to stop. It’s kind of a pick-your-poison type of thing. It’s going to be a fun year, and I’m super excited.”
With reliable hands and the ability to get in and out of breaks quickly for a player his size (6-foot-5, 256 pounds), Andrews has already established himself as a pass-catching tight end. He was a soccer player as a young child and credits the sport for his agile footwork and lower-body control.
However, Andrews wants to be an every-down player and the Ravens may have the NFL’s deepest tight end rotation featuring Andrews, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle. Andrews worked on his run-blocking and strength this offseason, knowing that if his blocking improves, he is more likely to stay on the field.
“The strength and lifting program I had in the offseason, working with my brother and all that, has helped,” Andrews said. “And then, I learned so much last year from Coach Andy [Bischoff] and now Coach Bobby [Engram]. Those guys have helped me a ton to grow as a player. I wouldn’t be here without them. Those guys have kind of taken me under their wing and really showed me the ropes in terms of blocking as well.”
Andrews seems driven to improve regardless of what coaches relate to him. He’s highly-motivated to get the most out of his talent. He had to prove himself in college at Oklahoma, an elite program where the competition was always intense. As a third-round pick last season, Andrews kept making plays in practices and in games kept getting better as the season progressed. Head Coach John Harbaugh doesn’t need to say much to Andrews, yet he’s always open to being taught.
“Mark takes coaching really well, but he’s thoughtful,” Harbaugh said. “He knows when he messed up. He’ll be the first one when he comes back to tell you what it was before you even have to say it.”
One of the biggest plays of the Ravens’ 2018 season was a 74-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Andrews, the go-ahead score in a Week 16 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. Without that play, the Ravens may not have won the game. Without that victory, the Ravens would have missed the playoffs.
Andrews wants more of those big plays this season, taking advantage of his ability to break tackles and find seams in the defense. It’s still early, but Andrews is having a strong training camp, one that makes him even more excited for the upcoming season.
“I’ve kind of always prided myself as a guy to get those YAC [yards after catch] yards, being able to make a guy miss or going over the top,” Andrews said. “I’ve always felt like I have a good knack for that. I’ve worked a lot. I know what my bread and butter is, catching routes, getting open and getting yards after the catch. So, that was definitely something I focused on as well. I think the game has just slowed down a ton for me.”