There’s always that person when you’re playing backyard football who thinks it’s funny to try to sneak into the offensive huddle.
That guy is fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, except there’s no sneaking.
Take the other day in practice, for example. Ricard was playing defensive tackle when an offensive personnel group was called out. Ricard stepped across the line and joined the huddle. Now his mission was flipped from playing with his defensive mates to whacking them.
His defensive teammates jokingly called him a “traitor,” but this is the life of Ricard – an extremely rare NFL two-way player. Last year, the undrafted rookie was nicknamed "Project Pat." Now he's no longer a project; he's one of the league's most unique weapons.
“It’s all love,” Ricard said. “They all know that I have to do what I have to do.”
Only five players in the past decade have totaled at least 50 snaps on both offense and defense, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Ricard had about 40 defensive snaps and well over that on offense last season.
Ricard is listed as a defensive tackle on NFL.com, yet he was ranked as the top fullback in the league last year by ProFootball Focus. He made five tackles on defense. He caught four passes for 12 yards and two touchdowns on offense and helped revive Baltimore’s running game.
So what does he call himself when people ask?
“When I first came into the league, I was a D-lineman,” he said. “At this point, I kind of just say both. Sometimes, I’ll say fullback first. Sometimes, I’ll say D-lineman first. I really just value myself at both positions because I think I do both pretty well.”
In Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, Ricard notched four tackles and one quarterback hurry on defense. He caught one 6-yard touchdown pass on offense. Overall, he played 27 combined snaps on defense, offense and special teams.
“I graded the tape yesterday. I don’t think I gave him a minus the whole time. I think it was all plusses," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "That’s pretty remarkable for a guy playing offense and defense.”
Ricard played both ways in high school, but only defensive line in college at Maine. He joined the Ravens as an undrafted rookie last year with the idea of playing defense. That is until new run game specialist and tight ends coach Greg Roman came up with the idea of giving Ricard a chance at fullback.
Ricard’s physicality is perfect for the job, and he has uncanny athleticism, coordination and hands for a defensive lineman. Before long, he had won the job and ultimately developed into a valuable goal-line weapon as a receiver.
It’s a lot for Ricard to know. He mainly attends defensive meetings but spends extra unscheduled time with Roman learning all the offensive plays and responsibilities of a fullback and tight end. Roman said Ricard is “exemplary” in his preparation.
“It’s almost like playing in high school again, because in high school, I never came off the field,” Ricard said. “It’s just a way higher level, and I have to know way more. It’s way faster, but it’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun.”
This offseason, Ricard focused his training (and steady diet of Chipotle burritos) to play more defensive tackle. He added 10-15 pounds so he could take on double teams and be more stout at the point of attack, he said. He was the NFL's heaviest fullback last year, and now he's even bigger at 6-foot-3, 311 pounds.
Playing more on defense even couldn't keep him out of the end zone. During Monday's practice, Ricard notched an interception that he maybe would have returned for a pick-six in a game.
"He’s really improved as a defensive lineman," Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said. "He really has; he’s bigger this year and stronger this year. I’m excited to see him play more and more because he’s gotten a lot better.”
Even now as Ricard is completely comfortable with his dual role, the Ravens still throw some curveballs his way.
During Thursday’s game, during a second-and-5 situation, Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg sent Ricard on a deep wheel-route down the sideline. Quarterback Lamar Jackson tried to hit his well-covered fullback with a 25-yard pass. Only problem was Ricard had only made it about 20 yards when the ball hit the turf.
“I know, I was surprised too when the play was called,” Ricard said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Alright, let’s do it!’ And then the ball was in the air.”
“Yeah, you have to keep [opponents] off-balance,” Roman said through a grin. “You never know when Pat might show up.”