When the Ravens installed former Harvard standout Kyle Juszczyk as their new starting fullback, replacing Vonta Leach, they immediately hoped that he would emerge as a hybrid pass-catching option.
So far, that's how the scenario has unfolded with Juszczyk leading the Ravens with 10 receptions for 90 yards through three preseason games.
Juszczyk, a versatile player who is capable of lining up at fullback, H-back or tight end, caught a career-high five passes for 53 yards, including a 23-yard reception, during a 23-17 victory Saturday night over the Washington Redskins.
"It was great to get so involved in the passing game," Juszczyk said. "I take it as a compliment that they're confident I can handle the ball out there."
Juszczyk, an athletic 6-foot-1, 248-pounder, caught 125 passes for 1,576 yards and 22 touchdowns as an All-Ivy League standout who played tight end, H-back and slot receiver in college.
Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is utilizing Juszczyk in a much different style than Leach, an old-school, traditional fullback.
"The fullback is one of the most important roles on the offense, outside of the quarterback," Leach told The Baltimore Sun earlier this month. "Everything works off play-action, and Coach Kubiak has been very successful in this league with how he uses the fullback. They'll spread Kyle out and have him run routes and use the kind of skills that he has working for him.
"I think Kyle will have a pretty good run with the Ravens. He's a smart guy and a tough guy who can take coaching. He listened well and he wants to be good. He doesn't act like he has everything already figured out. I think he's ready."
Kubiak has compared Juszczyk to Philadelphia Eagles fullback James Casey, who caught 34 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns in 2012 for the Houston Texans under Kubiak.
"Kyle is a little bit different," Kubiak said. "I've had a couple of athletic guys in the past, and Kyle fits that mold. So it gives me the ability to move him around and so some things. I've been impressed with Kyle.
"He's had an excellent offseason. He's very athletic. He has good hands, and he's a threat catching the ball. He's responded also to the dirty work, which is something he's going to have to do."
Juszczyk was named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year as a senior, when he caught 52 passes for 706 yards and eight touchdowns. He primarily played on special teams as a rookie last season and is developing as a lead blocker.
The Ravens had some issues preventing the Redskins from creating pressure with pass rushers Ryan Kerrigan and Jason Hatcher as quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked twice and backup Tyrod Taylor was sacked once.
"Definitely, their edge rushers are the real deal," Juszczyk said. "They were bringing it. That's definitely something we had to account for."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun