The sideline pass from Ravens backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor initially looked out of reach until rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro leapt high to execute a diving, acrobatic catch in front of safety Jeromy Miles.
The impressive catch by the seventh-round draft pick during a June practice drew attention from team officials, building confidence in the River Hill graduate.
“I think plays like that just help show the coaches what I’m capable of,” Campanaro told The Baltimore Sun in a telephone interview this week. “This training camp, I’ve got to be more confident and keep making big plays like that. I’m pumped.”
As the Ravens’ rookie class reported for training camp Wednesday with the first full-team practice set for July 24, Campanaro is looking to continue the progress he’s made.
Since recovering from a pulled hamstring that prevented him from practicing during a rookie minicamp and an organized team activity the following week, Campanaro regularly displayed sound hands and elusiveness.
“I feel pretty good about everything,” Campanaro said. “I was definitely a little bit behind at first because of the injury. After I got over that, I was able to go out and show the coaches what I can do. It took a while, but now that I’m 100 percent I’m definitely looking forward to training camp. I’m healthy and I have that extra gear that you miss when you’re dealing with a leg injury.
“I could have got hurt a lot worse, so it was kind of like a battle as far as knowing when to push it and when to fall back. At one of the minicamp days in June, it was kind of bothering me and halfway through the practice we kind of shut it down and they didn’t have me do as much stuff. We just wanted to get it healthy instead of having to go back to square one.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has made it a point to subject Campanaro to some good-natured needling about the lingering hamstring injury.
“Coach Harbaugh told me he’s not going to stop giving me crap about my hamstring,” Campanaro said with a laugh. “He told me until I score a touchdown for him that he’s going to keep giving me crap.”
When the Ravens drafted Campanaro after trading their 2015 sixth-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns to acquire him with the 218th overall selection, they envisioned him fulfilling the role as a classic slot wide receiver in the mold of Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker.
Campanaro also figures to get a long look on special teams as a kick returner and covering kicks.
“He should have a chance to contribute,” Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said after the draft. “There’s a need for a guy like him. He has a unique skill set. We think he brings something different to the team and we think he can compete.”
Shifty and quick at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Campanaro ran the 40-yard dash time in 4.46 seconds, posted a 39-inch vertical leap and bench pressed 225 pounds 20 times at the NFL scouting combine. The Clarksville native caught a school-record 229 passes for 2,506 yards and 14 touchdowns during a prolific career at Wake Forest.
Now, the Howard County resident is hoping to make a smooth transition to the NFL.
“I think I’m just going to come in and find my role in the offense,” Campanaro said. “I want to compete and push for some playing time. I think I can help out the offense and on special teams. I’m going to try to play on every special team, go hard every day and try to find my way.”
Growing up in Maryland, Campanaro won two state championships as a standout running back, kick returner and safety. He piled up more than 6,500 total career yards and 90 touchdowns with eight kick returns for scores, rushing for 1,848 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior.
“Ever since being drafted to Baltimore, so many fans that followed me and supported me throughout high school and college, have reached out to me,” said Campanaro, who’s signed to a four-year, $2.287 million contract that includes a $67,500 signing bonus. “Every time I’ve gone out, I’m always running into a huge Ravens fan. I did an autograph signing a few days ago and it was pretty cool.
“I was the only one signing and there were hundreds of people there to get my autograph. That was an awesome feeling. Ravens fans are some of the best in the NFL. They’re crazy about this team. It’s been great.”
Campanaro has had the benefit of being coached by receivers coach Bobby Engram, who played wide receiver in the NFL for 14 seasons and caught 650 passes for 7,751 yards and 35 touchdowns. Campanaro grew up watching Engram, a consummate possession receiver who played for the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Coach Engram, he’s the man," Campanaro said. "I’ve learned the most from him since I’ve been here. It was funny. I was talking to him one day and I told him I had a bunch of his trading cards. It’s funny that he’s my coach now.”
Campanaro has also been soaking up as much knowledge as possible from veteran players, including wide receivers Torrey Smith and Steve Smith.
“From the older guys, I’m just learning how to be a professional and how to take care of your body and know your playbook,” Campanaro said. “They talk about what it takes each day when you come out to practice, how to make the team and stay on the team. Watching guys, especially Torrey Smith, who’s a pro in everything he does, it’s a great example.
“Everyone knows what Steve's capable of and why we brought him here, but he practices like he’s a rookie who’s fighting to make a team. Here’s a 35-year-old, he’s been there, done that and he’s fighting like his job’s on the line. That shows a rookie like me what it’s all about. I can’t wait for camp to start.”
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