Call of (double) duty: Patrick Ricard is NFL's top two-way player

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Patrick Ricard finished off the Baltimore Ravens' first drive in last Thursday's preseason game by catching a 6-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco.

Four days later, Ricard reached the end zone again, grabbing a deflected pass in practice and running back the interception for a touchdown.

Ricard is pulling double duty for a second straight season as a fullback and defensive tackle in an experiment that went by the name "Project Pat" last year. This summer, it's more like Playmaker Pat.

Using athleticism, opportunity and a good number of burritos to bulk up, Ricard is looking to make an increased impact on offense and defense. He could become the first player in nine years to record over 100 plays on both sides of the ball.

"It’s almost like playing in high school again, because in high school, I never came off the field," Ricard said. "I was playing both ways. 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."

Two-way players have become a rarity in the NFL since the days of Sammy Baugh and Chuck Bednarik. Ricard was one of five players last season to line up for double-digit snaps on both sides of the ball, participating on 143 plays on offense and 37 on defense.

Leading the way for Alex Collins, Ricard replaced Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk and became the NFL's top-rated fullback last season by Pro Football Focus. He still believes he could do more on the defensive side of the ball.

Ricard added 10 to 15 pounds this offseason to help his chances of getting into the defensive line rotation. He put in long hours at a sports performance center in Indianapolis as well as Chipotle, where he scarfed down burritos every day.

The early results have been impressive for the 6-foot-3, 311-pound Ricard, who wanted to find the happy medium of being able to physically take on blocks on defense while being able to move around as a fullback. In last Thursday's preseason game, he scored a touchdown, made four tackles and recorded a quarterback hit.

"I graded the tape [and] I don’t think I gave him a minus the whole time," coach John Harbaugh said. "I think it was all pluses. That’s pretty remarkable for a guy playing offense and defense."

Good kind of confusion

Most of Ricard's day is spent in defensive meetings. He'll sit down with assistant head coach and run game coordinator Greg Roman off to the side to go over his plays at fullback.

During practice, Ricard's dual role can create confusion. Harbaugh thought there were 12 players on defense when Ricard was going over to play fullback, which is why he now puts on a blue pinny when playing offense.

This past week, Ricard was lining up at defensive tackle when the offense called a personnel group involving a fullback. So, Ricard walked across the line. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen started panicking because he needed to find a replacement.

"We all have to adapt a little bit," Harbaugh said, "but it’s a good problem to have."

There have been instances in practice where Ricard will block for Collins on one play and then try to tackle him on the next one.

"Defensive guys will call me ‘traitor,’ just because I’m hitting them versus playing with them," Ricard said. "But, it’s all love. They all know that I have to do what I have to do."

Expanding roles

Ricard finished with more tackles (five) than catches (four) last season. But he played one or no snaps on defense in 12 games.

His hard work has helped him crack into the rotation of the deepest position on the team. He played 41 snaps on defense in the Hall of Fame game and 20 snaps in the second preseason game.

If Ricard can contribute this way in the regular season, he would be the NFL's most productive two-way player since Cleveland's Mike Furrey played wide receiver and safety in 2009.

"He’s really improved as a defensive lineman, he really has," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. "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."

Ricard has even expanded his responsibilities on offense. Last year, he was primarily a blocker for the first three months. In December, he got involved as a receiver in red-zone situations, catching two touchdowns in the final five games.

This preseason, Ricard was the target on a 25-yard wheel route. It even surprised Ricard when the play was called in the huddle, but the Ravens have proven that they will try to use him any way possible.

"Yeah, you have to keep [opponents] off-balance," Roman said. "You never know when Pat might show up."