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Rookie tight end Mark Andrews paying early dividends for Ravens

Mark Andrews called the first touchdown catch of his career in the Ravens’ 34-23 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday “a special feeling,” adding, “It’s something I’ve dreamed about for a long time.”

But the rookie tight end sheepishly acknowledged that in the midst of the hoopla surrounding the 1-yard reception with eight seconds left before halftime, neither he nor a team staff member held onto the football as is traditionally done for special occasions.

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“I forgot to,” he said Wednesday. “All of my feelings just kind of got overwhelmed, and I forgot to keep it. I think we were so worried about winning the game that no one really thought about that.”

The three-time Pro Bowler is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos despite not practicing Wednesday and Friday.

That miscue is thus far a minor blip for Andrews, who has caught six passes for 48 yards in two games and is the second-most targeted tight end on the offense. (His eight targets are two behind Nick Boyle.) The second of two third-round selections in April’s draft, the former Oklahoma star appears to be tapping into the well that helped him lead all tight ends at the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision level a year ago in yards with 958 en route to winning the John Mackey Award given to the country’s top tight end.

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Andrews’ progress with the Ravens was slowed by what coach John Harbaugh called a “muscle tissue” injury that sidelined him for the first seven practices of training camp. And first-round pick Hayden Hurst lined up primarily with the first-team offense.

But both Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco said Andrews has proven to be a fast learner.

“Man, he’s kind of a gamer,” Harbaugh said. “He kind of steps up and makes plays. I think that’s what we thought we had when we drafted him. He works very hard in practice, and to see that show up in the games is good. [He is a] pass catcher, but a better blocker than probably anybody thought. In the games, he steps it up. He’s a very big plus for us.”

Harbaugh took umbrage when reminded that the organization has been disciplined before Wednesday’s news. “Your implication is, I don’t even want to talk about it because it’s so insulting.”

Said Flacco: “He’s done a great job so far because we haven’t had a lot of work together, and he hadn’t taken the bulk of the reps throughout training camp just because Hayden was getting so many of them. So the fact that he was able to come in and do what he’s been doing with the few amount of reps that he’s had has been pretty impressive to me. It’s definitely developing into a better and better connection because of the fact that he’s been able to go in there and catch the football, be in the right spot. The biggest part of it is catching the football, and he’s doing a great job.”

Since Hurst underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot, Andrews has seen a greater workload with Boyle and Maxx Williams. He shrugged off the notion that he has felt a need to fill the void created by Hurst’s absence.

“There’s no pressure,” he said. “It’s more of just that guys have got to step up. He was going to be the focal point of this offense. But I’m not an undrafted guy. I’m a drafted guy. So it’s not like I was coming here to sit around the whole time. I expected to have production, but I’m just trying to make the most of it, and I’m excited for Hayden to come back as well.”

As long as Hurst misses games, Andrews will continue to get opportunities. And that could mean a future trip to the end zone, which will provide another chance to send a football to his parents, who have filled his bedroom in Arizona with game balls, trophies and jerseys.

“There will be more hopefully,” he said. “So no regrets. I’m just happy it happened.”

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