Patrick Ricard has made the Pro Bowl four straight years as a fullback, but he's hardly resting on his laurels.
Offensive line has never been part of Ricard's resume, but there he was, lining up with the offensive linemen when he returned to training camp last week after coming off the PUP list. While Ricard rejoined the fullbacks and tight end groups this week, the versatile Ricard wouldn't rule out playing offensive line in the future, after playing defensive line earlier in his career.
"I think I'm a football player," Ricard said. "I play for the Ravens, so it's kind of wherever I'm asked to play, and wherever it's most valuable of my time for the team and myself is where I play. I'm coming back from my hip surgery midway through camp in a new offense, so I'm just trying to take it day by day, find my role and make the most of it and be ready for Week One."
Ricard's prowess as a devastating blocker who can be effective lining up in a variety of spots has been a key ingredient to Baltimore's running game. However, it remains to be seen how Ricard will be utilized in the scheme designs of new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken.
The Ravens are looking for someone to assume a primary in-line blocking tight end role after losing Josh Oliver to the Vikings in free agency. Head Coach John Harbaugh believes Ricard can fill that void and more.
"I have total confidence in him blocking at the line of scrimmage and running crossing routes and flat routes," Harbaugh said. "He'll tell you he can a run a seam and a corner.
"Todd is a big advocate of this, as well, is take the guys you have and use them, the things they do well. If you have a Pat Ricard – and I would put Ben Mason in the same category. You have guys like that, you want to use those guys and do what they do well, so, it gives you an extra thing you can do. Why limit yourself when you have someone that can do something at that level? Why not make a defense defend it? I know that's how Todd is thinking."
Ricard is soaking up Monken's playbook and preparing himself to excel however he is used. He enjoys being used in different ways and thinks he'll find an effective niche in the offense.
"It's awesome to see that we're using versatility, and we're using guys in different ways, either blocking, pass protection or running routes in the run game," Ricard said. "It helps players. It helps the team, so I'm all for that.
"If you have myself and Mark [Andrews] in the game, what kind of defense are they going to put out there? Are they going to put out a bigger front? OK. If they do, then we're going to go play action, and Mark's going to be in mismatches, or if they try to get lighter for Mark and all the receivers, then we're going to start running the ball. It's kind of like those things where versatility can just … it's just so valuable."
Ricard is thankful he's healthy enough to get back onto the field. He has undergone surgery on both hips during his career, and his earlier hip surgery prepared him for what to expect this offseason with his most recent surgery.
"I started noticing some sharp pain midway of the season last year," Ricard said. "I knew it was the same thing that happened to my other hip two years ago. I knew it was going to be a torn labrum. I was just having sharp pain midway throughout the rest of the year and just managing soreness throughout pretty much all the way until the playoff game. It feels great now. The ramp up's been awesome. I think I'm getting strength back in it. I'm not having any pain – just normal soreness coming back from a surgery, but I think it's going great."
Helping the Ravens win, in whatever role he's asked, has made Ricard a popular and valuable teammate. His role is always subject to change, but "Project Pat" believes this year's offense will be difficult to contain.
"We have a lot of great skill players," Ricard said. "We pretty much brought in a whole other room of skill players here to compete for different roles. I think that's the biggest difference is we're going to be more spread out [and] try to be [a] more explosive offense. So far, I'm really liking what we've been doing."