Ravens bet on Ricard to be chip off old block

Having learned from Gash for 2 years, fullback shows he can fill mentor's shoes

August 08, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

His mentor has yet to sign, leaving Ravens fullback Alan Ricard to conclude that he is on the right path to keeping his starting job.

Ricard studied the way Sam Gash bulldozed defenders the past two seasons, creating holes for Jamal Lewis in 2000, then Terry Allen and Jason Brookins last year.

Gash, regarded as one of the top blocking fullbacks in the league, is still an unrestricted free agent. Though the Ravens were in talks with him earlier this off-season, no agreement was reached, and the team will enter the preseason schedule with just Ricard and two undrafted rookie free agents behind him.

The Ravens could have pursued Gash again once Ray Lewis signed a revised contract extension last week that gave the them more salary cap room, but instead the team acquired tackle Ethan Brooks and linebacker Bernardo Harris.

"That just goes to show they are believing in me now," Ricard said, "and I'm just trying my best to show that I'm the guy for the job."

Ravens coach Brian Billick, however, will not close the door on bringing Gash back. "We always leave our options open," he said. For now, the Ravens see Ricard as a singular answer for a position that needed to be split by two players in previous seasons.

Gash was non-existent in the passing game and had to be replaced by Obafemi Ayanbadejo, who signed with the Miami Dolphins earlier this off-season. For as much as Gash lacked as a receiving threat, Ayanbadejo lacked as a lead blocker.

Ricard is being asked to fill both roles, with an emphasis on blocking.

"Alan can do probably a little bit more [receiving-wise] than Sam can do but not as much as Femi," said running backs coach Matt Simon. "The question is, can he be as good as Sam at blocking? Because Sam was so special at it. That is where Alan is at. Alan has to define himself in those categories now. The key thing is the blocking and maintaining himself as an entity in our offensive system."

This is the payoff the Ravens are expecting for gradually elevating Ricard to where he is now. Ricard, 25, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Northeast Louisiana in 2000 after spending a year out of football in 1999.

He was one of the final cuts in training camp in 2000 but was re-signed to the practice squad three days later, where he remained the entire season. Ricard made the active roster last season but played in just five games, all on special teams.

"We've been developing Alan for quite a while," Billick said. "It's time for Alan to show up. He's given every opportunity to show that he can be the kind of lead back that we had with Sam Gash."

Ricard falls more into Gash's realm than Ayanbadejo's. At 5 feet 11, 237 pounds, Ricard and Jamal Lewis (5-11, 231) may form one of the more bruising backfields in the AFC.

While he may be a last-ditch option on pass plays, Ricard has excelled at taking on linebackers in full-team scrimmages and one-on-one drills.

"As a fullback, you want to be known as a physical player, a player that will bring it every down," Ricard said. "I haven't done it in a regular season for 16 games, but as far as my team is concerned, they know I'm not afraid to stick it in there.

"This season will be a season where the league will know that I'm a fullback that is not afraid to be physical."

The best endorsement, the one he would surely need if the Ravens' ground game is to have success, came without hesitation from Lewis.

"He learned behind one of the best for two years in Sam Gash," Lewis said. "He learned a lot from him, and I'm very confident in him being the starting fullback.

"I trust in him. You go by what you see in practice, and he is leading it up in there pretty good taking on the blocks."

His hands have not been bad, either. He has seen only about five passes come his way during full-squad scrimmages, but Ricard has not dropped any.

"He really understands the offense. He understands what we are trying to do," Simon said. "That is where I think he's grown the most. And I think he is a better all-around football player than when he first came here, from a standpoint of recognizing protections and making adjustments.

"If he just goes out and perform like we've seen him perform in practice and dominate the linebackers at the point of attack and set up the pass protection, and really just take away the pass rush off the edge on these outside rush guys, then he is going to prove to everybody that he is where he should be."

Next for Ravens

Preseason opponent:Detroit Lions

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet, Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 2 1/2

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