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Former UMaine star changes positions to earn NFL playing time

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Tommy Gilligan | USA TODAY Sports | BDN

Tommy Gilligan | USA TODAY Sports | BDN

Baltimore Ravens defensive end Patrick Ricard (42) scores touchdown during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium.

Pat Ricard was a two-time, first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association defensive lineman at the University of Maine.

But when the Baltimore Ravens moved the undrafted free agent to fullback-tight end during training camp, he embraced it.

Ravens Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk had signed with San Francisco during the offseason.

The 6-foot-3, 304-pound Ricard is the only fullback listed on the Ravens roster.

The move has paid off for Ricard, who scampered into the end zone with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco in a 44-20 win over Detroit on Sunday. He was lined up as the fullback and flared out of the backfield unattended.

“They showed a lot of trust in me by throwing me the ball so I had to make sure I caught it,” said Ricard on Tuesday. “I’m so grateful they gave me the opportunity to make a play.”

He wasn’t sure if he could keep the ball, so he wound up giving it to the referee.

“I think our equipment guys have it for me,” said Ricard, who caught another pass, for one yard, earlier this season.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told BaltimoreRavens.com, “There was no doubt in our minds that he would catch it if we threw it to him. That play has been in (the playbook) the whole season. We have other plays for him that are in, too. So stay tuned. He has good hands. He is really a pretty darn good athlete. He is a weapon, a newfound weapon.”

Does that mean there is a possibility he could take a handoff from Flacco and run the ball?

“I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about our plays,” said Ricard.

He still takes some snaps as a defensive lineman and has made five tackles in 12 games. The Ravens put him in on defense on the last play of the Lions game.

He could become just the sixth NFL player in the last 10 years to get 50 snaps on both offense and defense in a season. Philadelphia’s Dan Klecko was the last to do so in 2008.

“He knows nothing about offense, but we’ve taught him so much, and he’s absorbed it,” said Ravens tight end and leading receiver Benjamin Watson in a Baltimore Sun story. “He’s come in and played great in short yardage in the run game. He’s a big guy, very versatile, very athletic. Just happy to see him catch a pass and catch a touchdown. We’ve been practicing that play for a while, and to see him actually get that in a game is pretty awesome.”

Ricard takes pride in being a two-way player.

“It’s something special because it adds value to me. At the beginning of the season, we had our share of injuries on the defensive line and at tight end and I was able to add depth to both positions. And they only had to use one roster spot,” said Ricard, who was a fullback-linebacker at David Prouty High School in the Worcester suburb of Spencer, Massachusetts, before enjoying a stellar career on the defensive line at UMaine.

“I don’t get much time to sit down during games,” he said.

Ricard was a third-team All-American in 2016 at UMaine, where he was involved in 208 tackles (47.5 for a loss, 18 sacks) in his 44-game career.

At Baltimore, he spends most of his practice time with the offense although he will join the defense when the team is working on special teams. He also has 1-on-1 sessions with the assistants.

Ricard said his extensive defensive background has helped him adapt to different blocking schemes when he is lined up at fullback or tight end.

“It’s easier to read the defense and understand who I have to block because I have been playing defense for quite a while. I had to get used to understanding all the different positions,” he said. “I’m getting more comfortable all the time. The learning curve isn’t as big as it was when I first started.”

His playing time depends on the game and situation.

He said there is a sizeable adjustment moving to the NFL but he benefited from the extensive time he spent at a series of Ravens training workouts last summer.

“It’s like going from high school to college. The players are a little bit bigger, stronger and faster,” said Ricard.

He feels fortunate to be with an organization that is known for its willingness to take a chance on undrafted free agents.

He is one of four former CAA players on the roster along with Flacco (Delaware), tight end Nick Boyle (Delaware) and running back Terrance West (Towson).

“It’s nice to have guys here from the CAA. I figured if they could be successful, why couldn’t I?” posed Ricard.

He said his teammates are regular, down-to-earth people. He is busy with football all the time between practice, weight training and video sessions.

Ricard knows he has to be on top of his game at all times because a few poor games could result in unemployment.

“It’s full time. All my energy goes to football,” said Ricard.

Because he isn’t playing a ton of snaps on offense or defense, he said it has enabled him to keep his body “fresh.“

He said he has received tremendous support from the people in his hometown of less than 12,000 people.

“It is an awesome feeling,” said Ricard, who signed a three-year, $1,671,500 contract with the Ravens.

The Ravens (7-5) play AFC North rival Pittsburgh (10-2) on Sunday night.

“It’s always a big game. We’ve already lost to them (26-9 on Oct. 1). Everybody is ready to go,” said Ricard.

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