Entering the preseason finale against the Washington Redskins, Mark Andrews ranked second to last among the Ravens in receiving yards and was tied for second to last in catches. But then after 60 minutes of play, the rookie tight end showed the Ravens what he’s capable of.
Andrews’ 45-yard catch-and-run on a seam route over the middle from rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson was the team’s longest pass play of the preseason. He outran cornerback Adonis Alexander to become a target for Jackson and bowled over strong safety Deshazor Everett to gain extra yardage.
It was the former Oklahoma standout’s signature play of the preseason and something the Ravens hope to see more of as the season gets under way Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
“It felt good,” the 6-foot-5, 256-pound Andrews said in the locker room underneath M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore after the Ravens had polished off a 30-20 win over Washington. “That’s something that I’ve known I can do. I did it in college all the time, and [it is] something I’m very good at. It was good to see, kind of good to finally catch a ball in stride and use my strides a little bit and make a good play.”
The big gain was one reason why the organization used its second of two third-round selections in April’s NFL draft to nab Andrews even after it had taken tight end Hayden Hurst two rounds earlier. After all, Andrews had led all tight ends at the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision level in yards with 958 en route to winning the John Mackey Award given to the country’s top tight end.
But he opened his first training camp by sitting out the first seven practices because of what coach John Harbaugh characterized as a “muscle tissue” ailment. After sitting out the preseason opener against the Chicago Bears, Andrews went without a catch in games against the Los Angeles Rams and Miami Dolphins despite three targets each and committed a false start penalty at the Dolphins’ 1-yard line that forced the offense to settle for a field goal in the second quarter in Miami.
Andrews said the injury is no longer a concern for him.
“I was just dealing with something that was a little tic-tac thing,” he said. “It feels good to kind of start getting healthy and understand the offense and just kind of feel more comfortable. Anytime you get reps in games and this whole preseason helps so much because it allows us young guys to kind of get the feeling of the game-like atmosphere. So it’s been very, very helpful.”
Although Andrews played just 19 snaps Thursday night, his presence in a game that is usually reserved for players on the bubble and others who are longshots to make the active roster was suggestive of the coaching staff’s eagerness to see him perform.
“We wanted to get him out there and get him some time,” Harbaugh said. “He missed a good portion of training camp, and he hadn’t had a lot of opportunities to catch the ball. So just getting him out there, blocking, running routes … that was important for him.”
Andrews’ development within the offense will be particularly important in light of Hurst’s anticipated absence for the next few weeks after undergoing surgery for a stress fracture in his foot. Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are the other tight ends on the roster, but they are regarded more as blockers and have not been especially potent in the passing game.
Andrews sounded as if he looked forward to the challenge of filling in for Hurst.
“Obviously, Hayden was playing really well, and there’s going to be that void,” he said. “So I’m going to have more opportunities to make plays and do some things. So I’m going to have to step up and help this team and help to win some games.”
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is supportive of Andrews’ development thus far.
“He’s really done well, and we’ll see on that,” he said. “Rookies in first games, as well — details, details, details. Mark has had a terrific training camp, and we’ll see in the ball game.”
As the team’s focus now shifts from the preseason to the regular season, there is the knowledge that the training wheels are now off. Andrews has had about a week to study the game plan against the Bills, but insisted that his familiarity with the offense is improving.
“It’s growing,” he said. “Obviously, being a rookie, it’s tough at times. Tight ends have to know everything. But I’ve learned a lot. I’ve progressed a lot, and I feel really good right now.”