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Every team needs a Swiss Army Knife. The Ravens have Patrick Ricard

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Every team needs a Swiss Army Knife. The Ravens have Patrick Ricard

BALTIMORE — When defensive tackle Patrick Ricard recovered a fumble at the beginning of the third quarter, he turned toward the sideline and immediately realized his personnel group was being called. He had to stay on the field — this time as a fullback.

Ricard has been a swiss army knife of sorts in the preseason for the Ravens, playing in a variety of situations. In Thursday’s 26-13 win over the Green Bay Packers at M&T Bank Stadium, he did just about everything imaginable. 

The third-year veteran made one tackle on defense and was disruptive in the backfield on a handful of others. He carried the ball twice for four yards and was a lead blocker as a fullback on multiple plays. In the team’s second preseason game, he was on the field from nearly start to finish.

“He has been very versatile,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s in the backfield quite a bit on defense, he’s in the backfield quite a bit on offense. That’s a good balance, I guess. He has played well, and he’s really establishing himself as a really valuable part of our team.”

Last week against the Jaguars, he played seven snaps on offense, 14 on defense and one on special teams. Against the Packers, he played nearly 20 snaps — double what he did on offense and got significant time on the defensive line.

“I’ve been doing it for so long, I do everything in practice,” Ricard said. “You kind of have to switch (mentalities) a little bit, but at the same time, when I’m on offense I bring my defensive mentality to offense and then vice versa. When I’m on defense, I understand offenses better because I play in this offense.”

The only issue, however, is how many snaps he’s on the field. Harbaugh said there’s not a set limit to offensive or defensive snaps, it’s just when he’s needed on the field.

“No, just when he starts looking like he’s really gassed, we try to give him a break,” Harbaugh said. “He recovered a fumble, he came off, and when his personnel group was called, he kind of looked up. It was like, ‘Dude, this is what you wanted. Get out there.’ He did well.”

An undrafted free agent in 2017 out of Maine, he played in all 16 games his rookie season. Last year, he played in just 10. But entering 2019, his reps are expanding on both sides of the ball.

In the team’s first preseason game, he had two sacks. Thursday, with an expanded role, he found himself more involved on the offense and nearly just as big of a factor on the defense. 

“This is my third year of doing it, so it’s kind of all I really know,” Ricard said. “It gets a little exhausting, especially in the third quarter when I’m going back and forth the whole time. That’s what I’m here to do, so I just have to mentally stay tough and get my breath back and try to recover as much as I can when I’m on the sideline. Whenever they want me in, I have to go in and play as hard as I can.”

Fatigue aside, Ricard has been able to play his skillsets off of one another as he improves on both sides of the ball.

“For the most part, I kind of understand schemes more and things defensive guys might not because they’ve never had offensive exposure,” Ricard said. “At first, it was weird to switch my brain back and forth because it’s slightly a different mentality. Offense is more of like, using your brain more with more composure. Defense is more like, attack your thing and just go. But I’m getting better with transitioning.”

He’s also picked up some knowledge on the offensive side of the ball, which has helped him have the strong start to the preseason that he’s had. 

“When I’m on the D-line, and they’re making all of their calls and all their checks, I understand it more because when I’m playing fullback, I have to listen to the center make our call and who they’re Mike-ing, Lion calls,” Ricard said. “When I’m on defense I’m like, ‘Alright, I’m pretty sure where I know the play is going.’”

Additionally, with every team in a roster crunch each August, he’s been able to take up two spots at both fullback and on the defensive line. He’s become a key fixture for the Ravens, as he’ll hold two spots on the roster by himself.

He’s played offense for a few years in Baltimore, where he’s firmly settled into a role where he’s ready to be on the field — on offense, defense or special teams — no matter when his number is called.

“My answer always is whatever gets me on the field at this point,” Ricard said with a smile. “I (just) like playing football, it’s fun. Defense is just different, especially this defense. Last year, we were ranked No. 1 and it’s a lot of fun. Whatever gets me on the field, I don’t care.”

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How the Ravens hope to ground the Air Raid offense on Sunday

How the Ravens hope to ground the Air Raid offense on Sunday

Robert Griffin III knows the Air Raid offense. He also knows not to call every version of it the “Air Raid.”

When Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury was hired in Arizona, team’s intention was clear: Bring the “Air Raid,” or at least its concepts, to the NFL full-time. The team picked quarterback Kyler Murray No. 1 overall to lead the offense, committing to the system full bore. 

Whatever you call it, the offense is going to test the Ravens defense — specifically the secondary — Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium. 

“Everybody has their own style,” Griffin said. “The foundation of the offense, of spreading people out, of trying to get easy completions, throwing the ball, it’s something that can translate to the NFL. I think our defense has a good grasp of what they’re going to be able to do, and what they can do.”

According to Sharpfootballstats.com, the Cardinals lined up with four wide receivers on 55 of their 82 offensive plays. They also lined up with three wide receivers on 15 plays and two wide receivers on nine plays. They never lined up with one or zero receivers. 

Murray threw the ball 54 times in the game, which went to overtime, as the Cardinals found their groove late in a 27-27 tie. 

But while the Cardinals are spreading things out, more so than any other NFL team, the concepts and route combinations aren’t foreign to the rest of the NFL.

“The thing of it is with Kliff’s offense, the offensive guys in this league have been stealing plays from him for years from Texas Tech,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “We’re just getting the full monty, if you will, of the Air Raid offense. History has a way of repeating itself in this league.”

The opportunity exists, though, for the secondary to have a big day.

“But I love these type of games, as a DB you’ve got to love these type of games,” safety Earl Thomas said. “These are two-pick games right here. You’ve gotta love it.”

Anticipating many four-wide sets from the Cardinals, the Ravens already made a move by promoting cornerback Maurice Canady from the practice squad. With Jimmy Smith’s MCL sprain, the move will add some depth to the secondary on a day when they’ll need it most. 

The Ravens will have to dictate much of their defensive strategy to stopping the offensive attack, but they’re not trying to change their defense too much. 

“We have safeties that can cover receivers as well in zone and man coverage, so we’ll be in different kinds of personnel groups, just like we always are, just in terms of how we want to game-plan and match those guys,” coach John Harbaugh explained. “We have a plan for that, obviously...but it’s a challenge. They’re spread out way more than anybody else.”

While the Ravens try to slow down Kingsbury’s attack, the long term sustainability of the offense remains a question to the rest of the league. 

Griffin doesn’t have any concerns.

“Just look at it this way: Almost anything is sustainable, as long as you’re committed to it,” Griffin said. “I had a coach tell me one time, ‘If you believe in something, then you have to go forth and do that thing consistently.’ That’s what they’re doing. They’re not partially doing the Air Raid, they’re fully committed to it.”

A full commitment to the offense, however, still means pulling from the rest of the league. 

The Cardinals don’t have an offensive coordinator, but Tom Clements is the team’s quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. He was with the Green Bay Packers from 2006-2016.

The concepts that the Cardinals are using have been around the NFL for years. Now it's being fully implemented, and it's just a matter of keeping opposing defenses on their toes.

“Well, that’s no different from any other offense in the NFL, you have to keep evolving,” Griffin said. “If you don’t evolve, yes, you can be extinguished. But if you keep evolving the offense and keep evolving how you run the offense, yeah, it’s sustainable.”

Long-term viability aside, the only evolution the Ravens are concerned with is how the Cardinals will change from week one to week two. And even that can be a mystery.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s four-wide or four tight ends,” Martindale began. “I have angst every Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see if they stay heavy with that (four wide receiver) package, because they have other packages as well, and they can still do all of the same things out of it. So, it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

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Ravens add cornerback Maurice Canady in preparation for Cardinals Air Raid offense

Ravens add cornerback Maurice Canady in preparation for Cardinals Air Raid offense

In preparation of the team's matchup against the Cardinals and their Air Raid offense, the Ravens added cornerback Maurice Canady to the 53-man roster off their practice squad. In a corresponding move, the team waived tackle Greg Senat.

With Jimmy Smith out with an MCL sprain, the team lacked depth at a position expected to be needed on Sunday. The Cardinals run their offense with a significant number of three and four-wide receiver sets, which is where Canady will come into play. 

Canady is a four-year veteran and was a sixth round pick of the Ravens in 2016. He'll play behind Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and Anthony Averett on Sunday.

Senat was a 2018 sixth round pick of the Ravens and was one of nine offensive linemen on the team. 

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