There's a hint of excitement in the voice of Michael Campanaro when he talks about what the future holds.
The Baltimore Ravens slot receiver, coming off a rookie season in which he appeared in six games and made 11 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown, is eying even bigger things next fall in the purple and black. In the meantime, during the three months since the team's loss to New England in the playoffs, Campanaro has been focused on getting his body healthy and physically preparing himself to hit the ground running when the offseason workouts pick up.
The Clarksville native recently took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with sports editor Brent Kennedy about his first season in Baltimore, his thoughts on the wide receiver turnover on the Ravens this offseason, and the prospects for his former teammate Kevin Johnson (River Hill and Wake Forest) in the upcoming NFL Draft.
So what have you been up to since making 4 catches for 39 yards in the Divisional round of the AFC playoffs against the Patriots?
"I've just been getting my body healthy. You know, the season is such a grind especially when you get injured in the middle of the season and are battling through it like I was. The first year is also just more difficult because you aren't used to the length of the season. I think we ended up playing 22 games, including preseason, and in college you are used to playing just 12 games. So aside from working out and getting healthy, I've also been evaluating my weaknesses and what I need to improve on to take my game to the next level."
Run me through the playoffs. What was the experience like playing on that stage?
"It was great. I thought our team fell short of our ultimate goal, but we came together toward the end of the season to go pretty deep in the playoffs. It was great for me to get experience in that atmosphere, especially against the eventual Super Bowl champs. That's how those games always seem to go between the Ravens and Patriots having watched them on TV for years, always coming down to the last drive. To be a part of a game like that, where there's a lot more pressure and everyone's playing at a higher level, that's huge for a rookie like myself to be able to get that under my belt. Now I know if I find myself in the same position next year, I know I've been there and I've made catches in those situations."
So run me through this offseason personnel-wise because there's been a ton of turnover at wide receiver for the team with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones both leaving via free agency. What are your feelings on that?
"It's definitely been interesting. At the end of the day, you know it's a business and that's how things go, but Torrey and Jacoby were both great leaders and veterans. As a rookie, they accepted me into the room with open arms and I learned so much from both of them throughout the year. I definitely wish the both of them the best of luck with their new teams. Personally, though, I'm just excited for the opportunity to go out there and compete for a bigger role and show the coaches what I can do."
With those vacancies on the depth chart ahead of you, do you suddenly feel like the door is open?
"There's no doubt that the opportunity is there and I think you sometimes subconsciously work even harder in these kind of situations. The coaches and other people are expecting me to come in every day in the offseason and really grow on my first year, so you want to live up to that."
How much of an expanded role do you see for yourself on kick returns with Jacoby gone?
"I absolutely think that I can help in the return game, that's a huge part of my game. I thought last year was great, learning from Jacoby who is a Pro Bowl returner. I picked up a lot of things from him. Also I got a ton of practice. Off the top of my head, I was catching like 20 punts a practice all year. So getting those reps and developing that comfort level, and then also getting some live game action too, it all puts me in a great position heading into year two. I feel like the coaches trust me out there catching the ball and fielding the ball."
You're obviously busy with football activities, but what other kind of things have you been doing so far this offseason?
"It's been good, I've been able to do other things. I did a fashion show down in D.C. and that was a fundraiser for Young Adults down there. That was a fun experience. I went to a "Zaching for Cancer" fundraiser event a little over a week ago and that was a chance to be a part of something in Howard County. I'm also in the early stages of getting my own foundation started with the help of my parents. Overall, while I got out a few times during the season, I've definitely had more time the last few months to focus more on some of the extra things in the community."
Shifting gears a little, talk to me a little bit about Kevin Johnson. He's currently projected as a first-round draft pick by a lot of experts in the upcoming NFL Draft and he was your teammate at River Hill and Wake Forest. How much do you guys talk and have you been able to give him any advice?
Howard County Times: Top stories
"I actually talk to Kevin two to three times a day. He's my best friend. We talk about everything, all the visits he goes on and all the coaches he meets with. He's just really excited. This is something he's been looking forward to and working toward his whole life. Early on in the draft process I mainly just told him to be himself and that if he kept working hard with his training, things would work out. But, honestly, the things he's doing now I didn't even experience so I can't really give him advice anymore. Being projected to go in the top round and he's talking to owners and GMs and people like that, which is something I never got to do. He's going to go to Chicago for the Draft. I'm actually hoping to go up there with him on the 30th. It's a fun time. Obviously I'm hoping he lands in Baltimore, but unfortunately it looks like he might get snagged up before we get a chance."
So, as his good friend, what's the insider's scouting report on Kevin at cornerback?
"He's extremely athletic. I think he's the most gifted corner athleticism-wise in the Draft. He can change direction well and has incredible feet and hips. When you dig even deeper and sit down and talk with him, he's also an incredibly smart corner. He does more film study than anybody I've ever seen … studying receivers and studying his own technique. He's really the complete package. Having played against NFL corners this year and then having played against him my whole life, I think he's going to translate great."
Let's say he doesn't get drafted by the Ravens and you guys are lining up against one another next season, who is winning that match-up?
"Funny you say that because we've already been talking trash and it hasn't even started yet. I see him getting projected to the Steelers or the Cardinals, who we play next year, and I keep telling him as a first-year guy he's either going to be on the outside or in the slot and we could definitely be going against each other. I keep telling him he's going to have to put in some work if he wants to stick with me. But it would be fun, no doubt. I've played against him in practice my whole life and we'd go at each other then, so it would just be the same thing with a little more on the line."
For you personally, as you work toward your second season, what are your goals in terms of where you want to be come the first game in September?
"More than anything, I want to get myself to where I'm fully healthy and ready to go 100 percent. I think last year, as I was playing and getting more comfortable in the offense, I knew I could compete in the NFL. The biggest thing was just staying on the field. So right now I'm doing things to get in the kind of shape it takes to make it through the grind of a season. I want to be able to make an impact here in Baltimore and help us make it farther than we did last year."