When the Ravens brought back All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach midway through training camp, it looked as if there wouldn't be much of a role left for fellow fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who was a fourth-round pick this spring.
After all, the fullback is a dying breed and most NFL teams only carry one -- if any -- fullback on their roster.
But while Juszczyk probably won’t see much work as the lead blocker for Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce when the regular season begins, we could still see the rookie fullback active on game days and on the field a fair amount of time.
Juszczyk's main role will likely be on special teams, where he has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff. In the preseason, he has played on both return teams and both kick coverage teams. He is playing positions within those teams that speedier running backs and linebackers typically play, not traditionally lead-footed fullbacks. He can make tackles, too.
“The thing that Kyle possesses that serves him well on special teams is he has some defensive skills,” Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He’s able to use his hands and get off blocks and that was represented in the tackle he made in the first game. He can run down the field and make a tackle in space. It’s not unique to fullbacks, but there aren’t that many fullbacks that can do that, and he’s off to a good start.”
Juszczyk also has the speed, vision and blocking ability to potentially replace running back Anthony Allen as the lead blocker on kickoff returns, something at which Allen has fared well.
But Juszczyk might also bring value on offense at some point.
After he was drafted, I wrote about how Juszczyk gave the Ravens formational flexibility, which could come in handy when the team runs its no-huddle without making substitutions. At Harvard, Juszczyk was a running back, a fullback and a tight end who led the Crimson with 52 catches for 706 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior. The Ravens have been lining him up as a tight end or slot receiver at practice the past couple of weeks.
He is quick for his size and has soft hands, two traits that were on display Sunday when he caught a pass from quarterback Joe Flacco, split a pair of safeties and ran for a touchdown.
“It’s encouraging because of the fact that it’s what we saw that he was able to do before he came. He can catch the ball. He can run routes. He’s a guy that you can put on the flanks or run out of the backfield. He’s able to make a couple of big catches, like the one he had [Sunday] down the middle,” Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “We know he has good hands, but it just depends on how we utilize him. We’re trying to incorporate him into what we do, and I think he’s going to allow us to be pretty flexible with his responsibilities.”
Caldwell was quick to point out, though, that he is still a fullback.
Still, there is a popular saying around The Castle: “the more you can do.” Even if he has taken a backseat to Leach, there are still other things Juszczyk can do to help the Ravens.