Bucs go to North Dakota to work out LB-turned-FB Will Ratelle
From the No Stone Unturned Department, the Bucs' search for a new fullback took them all the way to North Dakota, as the first team to have a private workout with Will Ratelle, a freakishly athletic linebacker now getting a look on offense.
"I thought it went pretty well," said Ratelle, who topped 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons at UND, the first player there to top 100 tackles in 11 years. "That was my first one. I've gotten a lot of good feedback from teams and now I'm getting more phone calls."
The Bucs sent running backs coach Tim Spencer to Grand Forks on Thursday -- that's five and a half hours of connecting flights if you're flying commercial -- as a follow-up from an impressive pro day Ratelle had at the University of Minnesota three weeks ago.
What makes an NFL team go across the country to evaluate a I-AA player at a position he hasn't played since high school? Ratelle is 5-foot-9 and 251 pounds, which doesn't match the traditional NFL linebacker frame, but consider the incredible measurables from his pro day -- he was timed at 4.54 seconds in the 40, with a 36-inch vertical and an impressive 36 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press. He played baseball and football in high school in Minnesota, as a pitcher and first baseman before focusing on football in college.
Ratelle hasn't played fullback since high school, and wasn't a starter then, keeping busy on defense. But he sees parallels between the two positions that help him adjust. He did get his hands on the ball some in college, returning a fumble for a touchdown as a junior and picking off one pass last fall.
"I think linebacker and fullback, physicality-wise, are pretty similar," he said. "Their movements on the field are almost identical, so there's not much of a changeup as far as understanding how to move on the field. It's coming pretty natural."
North Dakota hasn't had much of a pipeline to the NFL, but one of the biggest names in the last 20 years was fullback Jim Kleinsasser, who spent 13 years in the NFL after being drafted by the Vikings in 1999. Kleinsasser was much bigger at 6-3 and 272 pounds, but the parallel is easy to make as scouts look at another small-school talent.
The Bucs don't have a fullback on their current roster, having opted not to tender a contract to Jorvorskie Lane, their fullback for the last two seasons. Tampa Bay used a seventh-round pick on fullback Joey Iosefa last year, but he was cut in preseason. North Dakota's hockey team will be in Tampa for the next week for the Frozen Four, but Ratelle will be a name to watch for the Bucs, either late in the draft or in the first phone calls they make after to land undrafted free agents.