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‘Pancake’ Patrick Ricard feeds on ‘the feeling of dominating players’ as Ravens running game surges

There’s a charge in the air anytime Patrick Ricard blasts into open space. It does not matter if the Ravens fullback is assigned to block or, on rarer occasions, tote the ball. Collision is imminent.

It’s the currency of Ricard’s existence as the tip of his team’s rushing spear. If he was not born for this thudding work, he has embraced it since his high school days as a double-wing fullback/tight end in blue-collar Spencer, Massachusetts.

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“I like the feeling of dominating players,” he said. “There’s nothing better than when you dominate somebody or physically beat on them. Playing defensive line, that’s all you do — you’re attacking, you’re striking. So when I play offense, it’s the same mentality. For me, that’s my advantage.”

Last season, Ricard evolved from two-way curiosity to Pro Bowl fullback. Now, in the wake of Nick Boyle’s season-ending knee injury, he’s more important than ever to the ground attack that sustains the Ravens’ playoff chances.

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“Pancake Pat,” quarterback Lamar Jackson calls him in recognition of the punishment Ricard doles out to linebackers and defensive ends.

The nickname elicits a chuckle from his high school coach, Andrew Tuccio.

They used to run a “pancake” drill at David Prouty High. The goal was to knock your teammate flat on his back from three yards away, and Tuccio would goad Ricard if he took on a slighter boy. He couldn’t get enough of the full-body crashes.

“Whenever I hear that, I’ll send him a text like, ‘Hey you remember where that pancake started,’” Tuccio said.

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Ricard, 26, described his hometown of Spencer — about 10 miles west of Worcester and an hour from Boston — as a “small, country-suburban town,” the kind of place where generations pile up in the same neighborhoods and schools. His mother, Judy, is a labor-and-delivery nurse. His dad, Paul, is a 250-pound bear of a man who manages a thermal-processing plant. Both were married previously, so Ricard is the youngest of nine siblings.

He met his wife, Hayley, in high school, and the couple recently purchased their first home just a few doors downs from Ricard’s parents.

Ricard was more of a baseball player before he got to high school. But his older brother, Christian, played football, and both Ricard boys fit Tuccio’s blood-and-guts vision for his small-school program.

“If there was that adrenaline button in their forehead, him and his brother had it,” Tuccio said. “When they hit somebody, it’s like the endorphin rush goes off in them.”

To this day, Ricard traces his playing style to the lessons he learned from Tuccio, his brother and a band of older teammates. “They showed me to be physical, that it’s OK to put someone on his back or run somebody over,” he recalled. “You had to move people. We didn’t run a spread offense or zone plays. It was hat on hat, hit this guy as hard as you can and try to move him off the line so we can get a couple of yards.”

His commitment to blunt force only deepened during his college career at Maine.

“It was another blue-collar school. You don’t get budgeted like crazy … so you had to be really resourceful,” he said. “Evolving that toughness, you had to. Let’s be honest, it’s freezing cold up there, gray skies most of the time. And I think it kind of hardened me even more. When I got to the NFL, playing against people who didn’t all have the same upbringing I did, I think you see it in the way I play.”

Lest you think Ricard was some football barbarian, chipped from the ice, he had another side, as a National Honor Society member in high school and an economics major in college. He read science fiction, watched animé and stayed up all night playing video games with his best friend, Zack Sandman. His college recruiting list was stuffed with Ivy League universities.

“I’m kind of a nerdy guy,” he said. “I’m a big kid more than a masculine man.”

Ravens teammates praise him as a loyal and thoughtful person, a major reason he survived the 2018 revelation of racist and homophobic Twitter posts he’d written when he was a teenager. He apologized for the “inappropriate and unacceptable” posts at a postgame gathering, and his standing in the locker room has only increased in the two years since.

Ricard evolved into a dominant defensive lineman at Maine, but when he reached Baltimore as an undrafted free agent, he realized he might not be good enough to hang in the NFL at his college position. So he embraced Greg Roman’s suggestion that he also try his hand at fullback. Though he faced a learning curve, his two-way versatility gave him a hook to stick on the roster.

Ricard still played defense regularly through the first 10 games of last season, but as he became more essential on offense, his status as the modern Chuck Bednarik began to fade. He hasn’t played a single defensive snap this season, and he paused when asked if he still considers himself a two-way player.

“At this point, I’m going to say no,” he said. “I think that was a way for me to make a name for myself and stay on this team as an undrafted guy. But as the years went by, I’ve really carved a role out as an offensive piece of this team.”

This was confirmed when Ricard made the Pro Bowl as a fullback and signed a $7.3-million extension with the Ravens last December. The team has needed Ricard’s blocking more than ever to survive an injury-ravaged 2020.

When Boyle departed the field on a cart in Week 10, the Ravens lost one of their most popular teammates and one of the NFL’s finest blocking tight ends. Would their vaunted running game lose steam?

“What Nick Boyle did for us was so very, very important; he was a big identity for this team,” Ricard said. “I think the coaches have done a great job expanding everyone’s role to replace what he did so our offense can still function. So I do some of his things, but so does a Mark Andrews, so does an Eric Tomlinson, so does a Luke Wilson. I embrace it as another opportunity to see the field more and help us win.”

Ricard played a season-high 30 snaps each of the last two weeks as the Ravens rolled up 525 rushing yards in a pair of victories. Their 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns put them in excellent position to claim an AFC wild-card spot, and the game film revealed Ricard rocking defenders on the majority of his team’s 32 rushing attempts.

Monday Night Football analysts Louis Riddick and Brian Griese pointed out that where No. 42 went, the Ravens ground game followed. Watching at home in Massachusetts, Tuccio could only smile. Same as it was at David Prouty.

“He’s a Pro Bowl guy for a reason,” Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins said. “He’s a good friend of mine, [and] he has my back. … It’s a blessing to run behind him.”

Many teams don’t use a fullback at all in 2020, and those that do tend to employ a player in the 240-pound range such as former Raven Kyle Juszczyk. At 311 pounds, Ricard is a whole different problem, bigger than the majority of would-be tacklers he’s asked to take out.

“He’s a guy that can put a body on someone and knock them back,” said Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, who will have to deal with Ricard on Sunday. “He’s everything that you’re looking for with a fullback. … It’s not a finesse style; a lot of times people will like to do that when there’s a lot of misdirection and things of that nature. But it’s a physical style, and he’s part of that.”

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The Ravens line Ricard up at various spots and throw him the ball occasionally — 15 catches on 20 targets for two touchdowns over the last two seasons — but he has no problem being the resident sledgehammer for a team that cherishes such contributions. He landed in his perfect NFL home.

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“They do a fantastic job of giving everyone a chance to make a contribution, and I’ve been blessed to make the most of them,” he said. “Most teams, with an undrafted guy, they might have said, ‘Oh, he’s not a good enough defensive lineman.’ But here, they’re like, ‘Oh, we like the way he moves for his size. Let’s see how he does at fullback.’ … If I didn’t get that chance, I might have bounced around my first year, and I might not be in the NFL anymore.”

JAGUARS@RAVENS

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 13

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