Apparently in the two weeks after the injury to tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens had seen enough of their young receiving corps and a patchwork group of tight ends to decide they needed to do something about it.
In a span of 24 hours, the Ravens signed veteran slot receiver Brandon Stokley and agreed to terms with Dallas Clark, a pass-catching tight end who also spent a lot of time in the slot when he played alongside Stokley with Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Both could be on the practice field Monday afternoon.
Stokley is now with his fourth team in four seasons. He is 37, but quarterback Joe Flacco said he noticed from afar that Stokley still had life in his legs in 2012, when he had his best statistical season in five years with 58 catches for 544 yards and five touchdowns for the Denver Broncos. Playing with Manning will do that for you.
Clark is 34 and he battled injuries in 2010 and 2011, his final season with the Colts. He played all 16 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season and caught 47 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns.
So why did the Ravens sign these two graybeards off the street?
Reading between the lines, the Ravens realize there is a major void in the middle of the field after the offseason trade of Anquan Boldin and the injuries to Pitta and fellow tight end Ed Dickson in training camp. I thought the Ravens would heavily rely on two tight ends after the Boldin trade, but Pitta is out for the season and Dickson might not be back by Week 1.
Recently-signed veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has looked OK, but neither of the team’s top young wide receivers, Tandon Doss nor Deonte Thompson, has seized the slot spot.
Just how important is the middle of the field for coordinator Jim Caldwell’s offense? Greg Bedard of Peter King’s MMQB website explored that subject in a piece he wrote last week.
Enter Stokley and Clark, who were very effective as slot receivers with Caldwell and Manning in Indianapolis. Sure, that was years ago, but their experience was clearly coveted.
Stokley was in the slot for 93.9 percent of his routes run with the Broncos in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus, and all of his catches came when he was a slot receiver. He was targeted 56 times by Manning and caught 45 of those attempts. He dropped just two passes out of the slot.
Clark, meanwhile, was in the slot for 56.8 percent of his routes run with the Buccaneers last season. He was targeted 36 times by quarterback Josh Freeman out of the slot and caught 26 of them for 216 yards and no touchdowns. Clark also dropped two passes as a slot receiver.
They will be hard-pressed to replicate the slot production of Boldin and Pitta -- those two combined for 58 catches for 880 yards and eight touchdowns, including playoffs, in 2012 -- but it the two thirty-somethings have something left in the tank, they could replace some of it.
It would be ideal for the Ravens, though, if Doss, Thompson or another young receiver elevates his play out of the slot.