Ravens TE Mark Andrews’ absence leaves a big hole in the passing attack. Can Isaiah Likely fill it?

The Ravens — and quarterback Lamar Jackson — will soon journey into uncharted territory.

When Baltimore travels to Los Angeles this weekend and takes the field against the Chargers, it will mark the official beginning of the Ravens’ new normal for likely the remainder of the season: life without Mark Andrews.

Jackson was honest Tuesday when asked if the Ravens are more prepared for this reality than in years’ past.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” said Jackson, who followed his frank uncertainty with his typical praise for the Ravens’ pass catchers.

Replacing a player like Andrews — a three-time Pro Bowl selection, 2021 All-Pro and one of the best tight ends in the NFL — is a tall task. It will, as coach John Harbaugh noted after Andrews injured his ankle in Thursday’s win, need to be done in the aggregate.

But the player with the best chance to help fill Andrews’ large shoes is Isaiah Likely. Can he?

“[I’m] really just being where my feet are,” Likely said. “As coach always says: ‘Next man up mentality.’ I love Mark, it hurt when he went down. Mark told me, ‘Just stay the course and stay ready all the time.’”

Likely said he spoke on the phone with Andrews on Tuesday for the first time since the injury, noting his friend is in “good spirits.”

“Mark is like that big brother role in that aspect, and he’s done a fantastic job helping me day in and day out,” Likely said. “Having him still be able to talk to me even after his injury definitely was heartwarming.”

Likely is expected to slide into the starting tight end role with Andrews out. The second-year pro stood outlast preseason and has displayed flashes at times in regular-season games, but he’s largely played behind Andrews, hasn’t gotten many opportunities and has at times failed to capitalize on those he’s received.

In 27 career games, Likely has 45 receptions for 462 yards and three touchdowns, but the majority of that production came last season. The 23-year-old has just nine catches for 89 yards in 11 games this season while playing less than one-third of the Ravens’ offensive snaps.

In the six seasons since being selected in the same draft class as Jackson, Andrews has missed just two games because of an injury. His reliability and consistency were the linchpins in the Ravens’ passing attack, serving as both Jackson’s safety valve and his top red zone target.

“We’ve been bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly,” Jackson said Thursday about his relationship with Andrews.

Harbaugh said Monday that Andrews’ high-ankle injury “wasn’t as bad as initially feared” and that the 28-year-old has an “outside chance” to return later this season.

The two best games of Likely’s career came last season with Andrews sidelined. In Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Andrews left with an injury and Likely emerged with six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. He scored a 24-yard touchdown the following week in a win over the New Orleans Saints with Andrews out. Then, in Week 18 with Andrews resting and Jackson injured, Likely drew 13 targets from Tyler Huntley and recorded his only 100-yard game.

This season, though, Likely hasn’t produced when Andrews has missed time. In Week 1, Likely caught just one pass for 4 yards, and he went catchless Thursday after Andrews was injured by Logan Wilson’s hip-drop tackle on the Ravens’ opening drive.

Jackson said Andrews provided a trusted target when a play became “off script,” as the tight end knew where to be for his quarterback to get him the ball. But the 26-year-old signal caller expects Likely to “step up” and reach his potential given the increased opportunity.

“He’s shown glimpses of it,” Jackson said. “He’s always somewhere open as I’m watching film, so I feel like he’ll step up and do the right thing.”

Likely expressed confidence in his ability to fill in for Andrews, but he noted the two play different styles of the position. Despite that, he believes he can grow his “chemistry” with Jackson.

“I’m not going to lie, me and Mark do things different in our own ways,” Likely said. “That’s what makes us human, but just still trying to incorporate and blend with the offense.”

Likely, of course, isn’t the only tight end left on the Ravens’ roster. Charlie Kolar, a 2022 fourth-round pick out of Iowa State selected 11 spots before Baltimore took Likely out of Coastal Carolina, missed most of last season with a hernia and has caught just one pass this year — a 13-yard grab Thursday. And on the practice squad are veteran Eric Tomlinson and undrafted rookie Travis Vokolek, who Harbaugh said is performing well in practice but is still “a work in progress.”

It’s also possible — perhaps likely — that Andrews’ production is filled less by Likely and more by the Ravens’ improved wide receiving corps. And the two games without Andrews this season might serve as an example.

In Week 1, rookie Zay Flowers saw 10 targets and grabbed a career-high nine receptions in his first NFL game. Last week, each of the Ravens’ wideouts stepped up, including Rashod Bateman scoring his first touchdown of the season and Odell Beckham Jr. recording his first 100-yard game with Baltimore.

“I do believe, more than we have been in recent memory, we’re probably more prepared to deal with something like this than we have been,” Harbaugh said. “We have a lot of guys that can step up and make plays. … I feel really good about the guys that are going to all together fill in for Mark Andrews.”

While not having Andrews will hinder the offense, Bateman believes in the collective to fill in and keep the offense moving.

“I think this world kind of gets caught up in this wide receiver [No. 1] 1 kind of thing, but for the Baltimore Ravens this year, I think that we have proved that anybody can have a big game, whether it’s Mark, OBJ, Zay, myself or anybody.

“We play as a unit. We play unselfish, and I think that’s why we’ve had success so far.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Brian Wacker contributed to this report.


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