One day during training camp, tight end Mark Andrews broke into a wide grin when he recalled hearing the news that Greg Roman was being promoted to offensive coordinator for the Ravens. After all, Roman’s affinity for the tight ends, and the multiple ways they have starred in Roman’s schemes throughout the years, boded well for Andrews.
Nine games into the 2019 season, Andrews is still smiling, as he, Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle have become the most potent tight-end trio in the league, key cogs in the offensive machine directed by Roman and quarterback Lamar Jackson that has the Ravens (7-2) atop the AFC North and considered strong Super Bowl contenders.
Ravens tight ends lead the league in receptions (83) and receiving yards (949), and have been targeted a league-high 116 times. Nearly half the time Jackson throws a pass, it’s headed to a tight end.
“We kind of knew the deal with G-Ro,” Andrews said before the team’s practice Nov. 13. “He loves his tight ends.”
Andrews has been the headliner, leading the team in receptions (44), receiving yards (523) and touchdown catches (5). Among tight ends, Andrews ranks tied for sixth in the league in catches and yards, third in touchdowns. He also leads the league’s tight ends with 10 catches of 20 yards or more.
But Boyle and Hurst have made their mark as well. Boyle, whose abilities as a receiver and blocker earned him a new three-year, $18 million contract this past offseason, has 21 catches for 250 yards and scored his first career touchdown two weeks ago.
Boyle also leads Ravens tight ends in snaps, which speaks to his role in the Ravens’ top-ranked run game that has frequently mounted long, late, salt-away-the-game drives during the team’s five-game winning streak.
Hurst, the first-round pick taken seven spots before the Ravens selected Jackson, has 18 catches for 176 yards and one score. He said the versatility of the trio, coupled with Roman’s creativity and Jackson’s dynamic talent, make this offense tough to defend.
Ravens tight ends are finding soft spots in the second level, with defenses stretching vertically to account for speedy receiver Marquise Brown, but also pinching toward the line of scrimmage to counter a power run game led by Jackson, Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards.
“I think G-Ro is kind of having fun with it right now, moving the shells around,” Hurst said, recalling how Roman did much the same as the offensive coordinator in San Francisco when he had tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker running routes for Colin Kaepernick.
“When we all get on the field, it’s really hard to defend all of us,” Hurst added. “If we go a three-tight-end set, they bring in their big personnel, but then we’re coming out of the backfield and running all sorts of routes, so we’re really making it hard on defenses right now.”
“There’s so many moving parts to it,” Hurst said, noting that Roman has excelled finding coverage matchups favorable to the Ravens. “It’s just really fun to be part of this offense right now.”
The three tight ends are close friends, with lockers alongside one wall of the Ravens locker room, and Andrews described “a healthy competition” among the trio.
“I know for us, it’s always who’s running the fastest in practice and stuff like that … will get us going,” Andrews said. “But we all root for each other and we all want each other to do well. So if someone scores, if someone makes a big catch, we couldn’t be happier.”
JACKSON NAMES ROONEY SPORTSMANSHIP NOMINEE: Quarterback Lamar Jackson is the Ravens nominee for the NFL’s Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, which recognizes players for outstanding sportsmanship on the field. Eight finalists from among the 32 entries will be named by a panel of former players and current players will vote to select a winner.
MARSHALL: ‘A BLESSING’ TO BE BACK: Cornerback Iman Marshall doesn’t yet know whether he will be on the 46-man game day roster against the Houston Texans Dec. 17, but the rookie fourth-round pick called it “a blessing” to be back on the field after missing more than half his rookie season with a turf toe injury.
Marshall was injured during training camp and went on injured reserve before the season opener, but he was on the initial 53-man roster, which made him eligible to return from IR. He was added to the 53-man roster this week after three weeks of practice.
With veterans Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters holding down spots at cornerback, Marshall’s initial role is likely to be on special teams, and he broke into a smile at the thought of being in uniform for an NFL regular-season game after waiting out more than half the season.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “That would be really exciting. All I can do is do what I need to do to contribute and work hard.”
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