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Boldin must become mentor for young receivers

Veteran came to Baltimore to win a Super Bowl, but knows that he'll need to provide more than receptions this year

By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

6:20 PM EDT, August 6, 2011

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Anquan Boldin's roles this year extend beyond No. 1 wide receiver, fiery leader and part-time play caller.

When Boldin broke the huddle in Ravens' training camp Thursday, the 30-year-old wide receiver lined up next to wide receiver Torrey Smith, a rookie who is finishing his first full week of NFL practices, and tight end Ed Dickson, who is 19 months removed from playing at the University of Oregon.

The Ravens' era with Derrick Mason and Todd Heap ended when the franchise's all-time leading receivers were released last week. The new one with Boldin and a bunch of fledgling receivers is just beginning.

Take away Boldin and the average age of the Ravens' wide receivers and tight ends is 24 years old. The group combined to make just 12 catches at the NFL level last year.

"I'm the big brother of the receiver corps now," Boldin said.

Boldin jokes that he's been the voice of experience ever since he was a rookie in Arizona. These days, his voice can be heard before the ball is snapped.

Smith acknowledged there have been times when he has lined up and asked Boldin, "What do I have?" And Boldin responds assuredly, "You got this."

"He helps us out with everything from alignments to assignments to understanding how to run routes," Smith said. "We're lucky to be able to learn from him. He's such a cool, calm guy. You can tell he doesn't mind."

The Ravens had one of the most experienced wide receiver groups in the league last year with Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, making them the first team in NFL history to have three wide receivers with over 600 career receptions at the same time.

Now, quarterback Joe Flacco is throwing to one of the youngest groups, which includes two rookie draft picks (Smith and Tandon Doss).

"We have a lot of young wide receivers this year, and one of the biggest things Anquan can do is help bring them along," Flacco said. "Not only is he a leader by example, but he also understands that people feed off his confidence. He's someone who I feel will continue to emerge and help everyone take that next step. We need somebody who embraces that mentality, and I think he is the perfect guy to fill that role."

There are times when Boldin has pulled the receivers to the side to let them know what to watch out for and to try certain techniques that worked for him in the past.

"So it's like I'm a second coach, almost," Boldin said. "You've got to help those guys out, because the better they are, the better we'll be as a team."

Even before this season, Boldin has been like an assistant coach for Cam Cameron during games. The Ravens offensive coordinator said he doesn't know how many plays that Boldin has suggested — and the Ravens have gone with — but it's been "a bunch of them."

It's not unusual for wide receivers to lobby Cameron for certain plays. But Boldin is different.

"He's the first receiver I've been around that suggests plays that go to other people," Cameron said.

Boldin will tell you that he wants the ball. He just wants to win more.

When he picks up how defenses are playing him, he knows the plays Cameron can call to take advantage of it. And those plays could result in a pass getting thrown away from him.

Boldin said he called the play against Pittsburgh that resulted in a 67-yard catch by Donte' Stallworth, which was the longest completion by the Ravens in 2010.

"He sees the game through a quarterback's eyes," Cameron said of Boldin, who was the team's third quarterback last year. "It's like having another quarterback around you. He just knows football."

With the amount of inexperience in the passing game, Boldin also relishes the number of passes that will come his way this year.

Boldin didn't produce the numbers many expected after he was traded from the Arizona Cardinals last year. His 64 catches for 837 yards led the Ravens, but they were his fewest since an injury-filled 2004 season.

The Ravens should lean more on Boldin after losing five of their top seven pass catchers from 2010.

"I know why they brought me here," Boldin said. "I don't shy away from things like that."

Boldin and Flacco worked together last offseason, but Boldin thinks their chemistry grew during the season.

He now knows when Flacco is going to hold the ball and give him a little longer to get open or when Flacco is going to throw the ball to him right away.

"I think we're at the point where we're seeing the same things," Boldin said. "Right now, I think we're speaking an unspoken language. So, I definitely see us having a better year together."

Boldin is known as an intense competitor. In January 2009, a national television audience watched Boldin get into a heated argument with Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley during the NFC championship game because he was pulled out of a play on the eventual game-winning drive.

Then, last season, Boldin twice ripped into his teammates for playing poorly. He vented his frustration with halftime speeches in the locker rooms at Cincinnati and Atlanta.

His competitiveness even showed up at this year's training camp. After rolling his ankle on a play, Boldin was trying to get back on the field while temporarily limping.

"I'm here for one reason, and that's to win a Super Bowl," he said. "For me, it's even worse now being in the Super Bowl and losing it. I just want that opportunity again. That's why I came to Baltimore. I'm looking forward to getting back there and winning it this time."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

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