Halfway through his 13th season, Marshal Yanda is having one of his best and most enjoyable years.
When the Ravens drafted Yanda, Lamar Jackson was just 10 years old. Now they are teammates and despite their age difference, Yanda and Jackson share a bond as teammates – the veteran guard who loves Jackson's competitiveness and talent, and Jackson,[comma] who values Yanda's presence as one of the NFL's best offensive linemen.
After Sunday's win over the Bengals, Yanda said Jackson is "ridiculous." On Wednesday, Jackson returned the compliment.
"It starts with the line, I need my linemen to love me, protect me," Jackson said. "I'd rather them not hate me. It starts with him. He's the O.G. the G.O.A.T, future Hall of Famer. I need to send him off right. Get a Super Bowl, I'll be set."
The idea of winning another Super Bowl sounds good to Yanda, who made one of his seven Pro Bowls in 2012 when the Ravens won their last championship. Yanda thought about calling it quits after last season, but after entering the offseason healthy, he instead signed a one-year contract extension to keep him in Baltimore through 2020.
He's having a blast, largely because the Ravens are having success.
"We're winning," Yanda said. "That's what we're all paid to do here. We've won some really big games as of late. To win those big games is something I'm relishing."
Yanda also loves the shot of adrenaline he gets from playing with Jackson. He was totally on board with Jackson in Seattle two weeks ago, when Jackson came to the sidelines and vehemently urged Head Coach John Harbaugh to go for it on fourth down, leading to Jackson's 8-yard touchdown run on the next play.
This past weekend in Cincinnati, Yanda got a kick out of watching Jackson wearing sunglasses on the sideline, something Yanda said he would never do.
"No way," Yanda said smiling. "I leave that to the young guys. I'm the lunch-pail guy, the knuckle-dragger. I embrace my role."
Winning another Super Bowl would only strengthen Yanda's resume as a potential Hall of Famer. Harbaugh is glad that the Ravens' five-game winning streak is bringing Yanda more attention.
"Marshal, in my mind, is a Hall of Fame player," Harbaugh said. "If you're going to make the Hall of Fame as an offensive lineman, you've probably got to play your Hall of Fame level at the end when people are watching. Because for most of your career, most people, including the media believe it or not, don't pay attention to those guys up front. I believe Marshal's doing that at the highest level. I think he's playing some of his best football, if not his best football, right now."
Patrick Ricard's Two-Way Contributions Are Impressive
As a true two-way performer, fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard keeps making plays to help Baltimore win on both sides of the ball.
He has been a terrific blocking fullback all season, a key in the Ravens' No. 1-ranked rushing attack. At defensive tackle, Ricard got his first career sack Sunday in Cincinnati, causing the fumble that led to the recovery and 33-yard touchdown by outside linebacker Tyus Bowser.
"I didn't even now the ball came out," Ricard said. "I was jumping around, it was first career sack. Then I turn around and Tyus is just running with the ball and I was even more excited because I knew it was his first career touchdown. For all that to happen in one play was very special to me and to Tyus."
More people around the country are noticing Ricard's two-way talent. Peter Schrager of NFL Network called Ricard the NFL's most dangerous two-way player. Ricard has played 167 snaps on offense and 123 snaps on defense.
"For me, now actually to be playing offense and defense equally is amazing," Ricard said. "To be able to help both sides off the ball, it's amazing."
Ricard is a candidate to make the Pro Bowl as a fullback, but he's not thinking too far ahead.
"At the end of the day, I'm here to just help the team," Ricard said. "To come in and get that kind of award would mean a lot to myself, this organization, my coaches, my teammates. But at end of the day I just want to help my team."
Ravens Eyeing NFL Record for Defensive Touchdowns
Baltimore's league-leading five defensive touchdowns have all come in the last three games – two by Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters and one by Bowser. That puts the Ravens halfway to tying the NFL record for most defensive touchdowns in a season (10), shared by the 1998 Seattle Seahawks and 2010 Arizona Cardinals.
The addition of Peters, a cornerback who has an NFL-high seven pick-sixes since 2015, including two already in just three games with the Ravens, has added a new dimension to Baltimore's defense. Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith believes the all-time record for most defensive touchdowns in a season is within reach.
"That's the goal," Smith said. "That's what we're shooting for. We've got Marcus. We've got Marlon. It might happen."
Teammates Still in Awe of Jackson's Spin-Move Touchdown Run
Jackson's teammates seem him do otherworldly things on the practice field on a regular basis. But his 360-degree spin move against the Bengals was so good, even his teammates had to see it again.
Teammates started watching replays of the move on the team bus outside the stadium, even before the bus left for the airport. It was still a topic of conversation in the locker room Wednesday.
"I don't think you're ever going to see anything like that again," tight end Hayden Hurst said. "Just to see the stuff that he does in practice doesn't really surprise us. (But) I'm really just in awe of him. It's fun on the field at the same time with him."
Ravens running back Mark Ingram II escorted Jackson to the end zone after he made his spin on the 43-yard touchdown run. Ingram was just glad he didn't get in Jackson's way.
"That run was crazy," Ingram said. "He's just a special talent. He's only going to continue to get better. You got to go into the archives to see something better than that. ... It was wild."
Jackson is too modest to talk about the run much himself, but it's constantly brought to his attention on TV and social media.
"I watched it a lot," Jackson said. "It's popping up everywhere, so I have to watch it. And it catches my eye sometimes, but I'm focused on this next game. I don't really care about it."
Asked what his mom thought of the run, Jackson said she was most impressed with how he's playing.
"She just said I'm finally playing how I used to play," Jackson said. "Sometimes during games, she'll see me where I'm just trying to pass it more, not just doing what I do. If I see it there, take advantage of it. And that's what I've been doing – just taking advantage of what the defense gives."