The end of preseason could be a beginning for Mark Andrews.
The rookie tight end had an impressive first-half performance Thursday night with three catches for 61 yards, helping the Ravens to a 30-20 victory over the Washington Redskins.
Andrews' signature moment came late in the first half when he took a perfect throw from Lamar Jackson and rumbled downfield for a 45-yard gain. The toss from Jackson was pinpoint, and the run-after-catch displayed Andrews' potential as a weapon starting Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills.
Even after drafting tight end Hayden Hurst in the first round, the Ravens took Andrews in the third round because they were impressed with his pass-catching skills. Hurst will be out at least another three weeks with a stress fracture suffered earlier this month. Andrews will be counted on to help fill the void.
"We wanted to get him out there and get him some time," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He missed a good portion of training camp and he hadn't had a lot of opportunities to catch the ball. Just getting him out there, blocking, running around, I think he had three catches if I'm not mistaken? That was important for him. We're going to need him early in the season. He's going to have to play for us."
Andrews had been relatively quiet in practices and games until Thursday. He ran precise routes, got open, and was tough to bring down. The Ravens love throwing to tight ends, and Hurst's absence leaves Andrews, Nick Boyle, and Maxx Williams as the top three players at that position with Andrews the most natural receiver of the bunch.
Starting quarterback Joe Flacco quickly built chemistry with Hurst before he was injured. Andrews hopes to build a similar connection with Flacco, knowing it could lead to opportunities like the ones he saw Thursday night. It was a performance that should boost Andrews' confidence.
"A lot of guys made a lot of good plays, and we're going to be able to take that into the season," Andrews said. "Obviously, Hayden was playing really well and there's going to be that void. I'm going to have more opportunities to make plays and do some things. So I'm going to have to step up, help this team out, help win some games."
Andrews missed two weeks of training camp with a soft tissue injury, but it was obvious Thursday he has put that injury behind him. The Ravens are expecting wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV to be consistent playmakers, so Andrews does not have to be the focal point of the offense.
But during college at Oklahoma, Andrews compiled some impressive stats in his final season – 62 catches for 958 yards and eight touchdowns to win the John Mackey award for the nation's top college tight end. Andrews hopes to make a quick transition to the NFL, and his consistent production in college should help.
"That's something I know I can do, I did it in college all the time," Andrews said. "It felt good to start catching the ball and using my strides a little bit. It feels good to kind of understand the offense and just feel more comfortable.
"It's tough at times. Tight ends have to know everything. I've learned a lot, progressed a lot, and I feel really good right now."
Now Andrews will focus on having an impact during the regular season.
"It's going to be a fun test," Andrews said. "We're going to be ready to go. I'm ready to start game-planning."
Since entering the NFL in 2008, Flacco has targeted tight ends more than any other quarterbacks except Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady. Even without Hurst, the Ravens want to utilize two tight-end formations when they feel it will be an advantage. Boyle and Williams have proven their blocking ability, but the door appears open for Hurst and Andrews to become consistent targets for Flacco.
After General Manager Ozzie Newsome drafted Hurst and Andrews, Newsome said, "I hope Joe enjoys the tight ends as much as I like the tight ends."
Injury will force Hurst to wait for his opportunity. But Andrews looks ready for his.
Check out the best shots from Thursday night's preseason finale at M&T Bank Stadium.