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Is fullback an underrated roster battle for the Ravens?

Dying breed or thriving competition?

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL fullback position is one that has been speculated as going the way of the Dodo bird, but there are still a few teams and coaches who seem to value the position. Judging by their actions over the past several years, the Baltimore Ravens are certainly one of those teams.

For years, the bruiser up the gut was Vonta Leach, who joined Baltimore in 2011 to block for Ray Rice, and was replaced when Kyle Juszscyk took over for him following the 2013 season. Juszscyk is now in San Francisco having just been given a sizable contract to operate as an X-factor in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, leaving an open spot at the position in Baltimore.

Ricky Ortiz, an undrafted free agent from Orgeon State, is the only pure fullback on the roster, and from what he’s shown in preseason he could very much play the role that Juszscyk did for Baltimore the last few seasons. He’s a versatile player, and would give the Ravens more than just a masher in the run game according to a profile on him by Ravens staff writer Ryan Mink:

“Ortiz played a little bit of everything at Oregon State.” Mink wrote in June. “He made eight starts at three different positions: tight end (six), fullback (one) and linebacker (one). He knew his future would be at fullback and looked up to former Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk and Atlanta Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco.”

It’s interesting to hear Juszscyk mentioned as an influence on Ortiz, as with the latter now wearing the former’s number, the two are almost indistinguishable from a body type and playing style perspective on the field. Offensive coordinator Marty Morninwheg noted the fullback spot as one that was a position of strength when praising the job that the run game has done on the whole:

“The run game? The guys have done a great job,” Morninwheg said in a press conference. “Greg (Roman)? Fantastic job there. The tight ends, the fullback spot, the line, and our backs are all doing a great job.”

He isn’t blowing smoke; the running game has quietly looked pretty impressive in the preseason, especially for a team with so many questions up front on offense. This could lend itself to an opportunity for Ortiz to make it onto the final roster, as Baltimore will need to run the ball well if they hope to see a better Joe Flacco in 2017.

What’s interesting about Ortiz’ spot with the team is that he may be challenged by defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, who saw snaps at fullback sparingly in the Miami preseason game. Ricard hopes to make the team as a two-way player, something that ESPN’s Jamison Hensley noted the rarity of:

“How unusual is this?” Hensley wrote in regards to Ricard’s two way aspirations. “In the past decade, only five players have totaled more than 50 snaps on offense and defense in a single season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. At 304 pounds, Ricard could also be the biggest fullback in league history.”

Regardless of who (if anyone at all) wins the battle to start at fullback, this is certainly turning into one of the more interesting camp battles of the summer. Whenever the Ravens line up to run, keep an eye on who is clearing the holes for the running backs.