Patrick Ricard Has Just Scratched the Surface of What He Can Become
Dynamic players such as Lamar Jackson, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Mark Ingram II and Mark Andrews provided plenty of material for the explosive Ravens offense's highlight reel from last season, but fullback Patrick Ricard also was a force, even if he lacked flash.
Ricard's physicality as a blocker was a perfect fit for Baltimore's smash-mouth offense. Ricard, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent defensive lineman out of Maine in 2017, also was a contributor for the fourth-ranked defense, as he became the NFL's first two-way player in over a decade.
Ricard, who made the Pro Bowl as a fullback, is just getting started, Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler wrote.
"There is still room for him to develop as a fullback," Schisler wrote. "While his experience as a defensive lineman helps him to understand blocking and has entrenched him in the physical nature of the game, it's important to remember he's still relatively new at this. … Ricard is not a finished product in the NFL and he's already pretty awesome. This makes the nickname 'Project Pat' incredibly fitting. It's almost a promise of the things yet to come."
The 6-foot-3, 311-pound Ricard, who caught eight passes for 47 yards and a touchdown last season (giving him three TD receptions in his three-year career), has the potential to become more of a factor in the passing game, wrote Schisler, who believes Ricard could make an impact similar to that of former Ravens All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach.
"In the 2012 season, Leach had 21 receptions for 143 yards and averaged 6.8 yards per catch. There is no reason Ricard can't get to that level of production, especially as the forgotten weapon in the backfield," Schisler wrote. "Defenses are never going to prioritize Ricard as a player they have to defend. It goes, Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown and Mark Ingram in that order. Nobody will see it coming if Jackson hits Ricard in the flats on a semi-regular basis. Those are free yards, the Ravens ought to take advantage of that."
The Ravens clearly value what Ricard brings to the team, as they signed him to a two-year contract extension in December. Credit Head Coach John Harbaugh with envisioning Ricard as a two-way player.
"It was my idea, and that's the absolute truth," Harbaugh said last season. "I just thought that he was a weapon. That's a dominant-type of guy. He looked like a really good athlete. Then I asked him, and he said he played it in high school. And the rest is history, as they say."
Patrick Mekari Is Ravens' 'Most Intriguing Project Player'
The Ravens have another player who could fit the "Project Pat" moniker: offensive lineman Patrick Mekari. The offensive lineman was identified as the Ravens' "most intriguing project player" heading into the season by Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski.
Mekari, who the Ravens signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019, took over as the starting center in Week 12 after Matt Skura (who went undrafted in 2016) suffered a season-ending knee injury.
"[Mekari] stepped in and played well enough to make the position an open competition," Sobleski said. "Bradley Bozeman will be in the mix as well, but Mekari, 22, is the youngest of the three, an excellent pass-blocker and presents the most upside since he's still growing accustomed to center after playing guard and tackle for the University of California."
The Ravens have expressed confidence in Mekari, Skura and Bozeman.
"We're fortunate that we've got three guys who can snap and compete at that spot," General Manager Eric DeCosta said. "We feel like we've got good depth there, and I think we're in a good spot in terms of the guards and the centers and the combination of guys that could play both spots."
Lack of Minicamps Affects Evaluation Process Regarding Undrafted Free Agents
Ricard, Mekari and Skura are prime examples of undrafted free agents who have flourished in Baltimore. At least one undrafted free agent has made the Ravens' 53-man roster for 16 consecutive seasons (the second-longest streak in the league), and a number of UDFA's over the years have become significant contributors for the team.
However, the pandemic has created unique challenges for NFL teams this offseason, and one of them is the evaluation of undrafted free agents.
How will not having June minicamps affect the Ravens in regard to UDFA's?
"That's a great question. I don't think we're going to know until we get back," Harbaugh said during a conference call with reporters yesterday. "We've already missed out on the tryout part of it. We used to bring in over 20 guys for tryouts, and usually three [or] four of those guys would end up on our training camp roster.
"The guys that you feel bad for are those guys. There are so many players that don't get drafted and then don't sign right away who end up being really good players. They are good players, and they deserve a shot and a chance. That part probably won't happen this year, so maybe those guys will get a chance next year. As far as who will make it [or] who won't make it and how this affects [everything], that remains to be seen."
For example, Justin Tucker was originally a rookie camp tryout before being signed to an undrafted rookie deal. That one worked out pretty well.
Ray Lewis Praises University of Miami's Hiring of Ed Reed
Ray Lewis strongly endorsed alma mater University of Miami's hiring of Ed Reed as the football program's chief of staff during a press conference with local media at the school yesterday.
"Two things you can guarantee he brings: Experience and probably the best safety to ever play the game," Lewis of his fellow Hall of Famer, per The South Florida Sun Sentinel. "From experience, I think you can't pay for experience. What Ed has done, the path he took, coming from the University of Miami, being who he is, coming to Baltimore — thank you for coming to Baltimore — to know that Ed comes back, the kids gain so much."
Reed, who accepted the job earlier this year, will advise Hurricanes Head Coach Manny Diaz in all aspects of the program, including strategic planning, quality control, operations, player evaluation, and player development. He will also provide assistance in team building, student-athlete mentorship and recruiting, as permissible under NCAA rules.
Lewis said the Miami players can learn a lot from Reed if they're willing to listen.
"They have to really be willing to speak to him too, right?" Lewis said. "Because you got to be willing to listen to those lessons, and a lot of those lessons take a long time. Ed, he's wise way beyond his years, so I think he brings a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge, as well."
Lewis was speaking at the school because he and Toast Distillers, Inc. were donating personal protective equipment (PPE) to Hurricanes athletics as they bring athletes back on campus for summer workouts.
Ozzie Newsome Reflects on How the Ravens Found John Harbaugh
Former Ravens General Manager and current Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome provided some insight into how the organization approaches the hiring of coaches.
Speaking at a panel discussion at the NFL Quarterback Coaching Summit, Newsome said the Ravens always keep lists of coaches of interest.
"We come to a collective agreement on the people we want to interview, and that's based on the information we get when we talk to our area scouts, and our coaches and people around the league," Newsome said, per Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer.
Breer wrote: "That, he mentioned, is how they found an Eagles special teams coach to be particularly intriguing. John Harbaugh's been a pretty good hire."