Days after tight end Nick Boyle endured a second suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, coach John Harbaugh criticized the second-year pro during the 2016 scouting combine.
“There’s no explanation for dumb,” Harbaugh said. “When any player becomes more of a problem than they are a benefit, then they have to go. I don’t see him there yet. I still think he’s going to be a really good player in this league, but if he continues to double down on dumb, then he’s going to be out.”
That, Boyle said Tuesday, was the lowest point of his life.
And it was a reminder for the Delaware alumnus, entering his third NFL season — one he hopes is his first with a starting role and without a suspension — to mature for the opportunity to become one of the Ravens’ offensive mainstays.
“He deserved to say everything he said,” Boyle said of Harbaugh. “I don’t know if it lit a fire. It kind of just opened my eyes and realized what I had and it showed how much I miss football and how much I love football. Not to be around it every day, not to be in the locker room with your friends, it was really, really hard to deal with.”
Boyle ended his rookie season as a 2015 fifth-round draft pick with that separation.
He had played 11 games that year. He was targeted 22 times. He caught 18 of those passes for 153 yards. He converted 10 first downs. But Boyle received a four-game suspension to end his season and drew Harbaugh’s ire for his next infraction about two months later.
While he participated in training camp last summer, Boyle said, the workouts had a different vibe. He knew he couldn’t play in the opening game — much less interact with the team until mid-November.
Boyle tried not to let the pending absence affect his summer work, but he worried the Ravens’ stable of tight ends — Dennis Pitta, Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore anchored the unit — might not leave room for him to earn a future roster spot.
“That was kind of out of my control,” Boyle said.
During his punishment, he worked out at a facility in Baltimore separate from the Ravens’ with a training plan that prepared him to make six catches for 44 yards in his six appearances when he returned and an approach he believes molded him into perhaps the team’s most consistent tight end entering the 2017 season.
Training camp is a grind, Boyle said with a smile, but he’s more excited this year to take the field each day knowing he won’t have to isolate himself from the franchise after it’s over. He begins each practice with a specific goal for improvement based on his performance the day before.
Plus, he’s working with the starting offense. With Pitta and Gillmore released with injuries, Darren Waller indefinitely suspended, and Williams and Watson returning from season-ending injuries, Boyle has established himself as the Ravens’ top returning option.
“Football is very important to him. Just competing is very important to him,” senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman said. “He wants to do everything exactly right, and he’s gotten a lot of great experience this camp.”
Roman lauded Boyle’s 6-foot-4, 270-pound size combined with his agility as his best assets.
Boyle had spoken about his newfound appreciation for those abilities as the keynote speaker at the Colonial Athletic Association media day in late July.
He encouraged the conference’s players to develop plans now that would translate to the professional level. The two Blue Hens in attendance felt that message applied to their expectations for Boyle’s third year in the league, too.
“He’s going to put his head down and go to work,” said Delaware offensive lineman Brody Kern, one of the former teammates Boyle often stays with when he visits. “Then maybe we will see the skill of Nick Boyle come out and catch a couple of touchdowns, jump over some people.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it, and Baltimore fans should be prepared for that.”