Owen Daniels rightfully felt "a little bit weird" last spring when he heard rookie Crockett Gillmore, drafted to play with him at tight end for the Ravens, describe watching Daniels play football when Gillmore was just a kid.
The Ravens tight end, who turns 32 on Sunday and this week stopped and quickly corrected himself after referring to himself as "old guy" — he instead went with "older guy" — was at Wisconsin when a teenage Gillmore first took notice of him.
Daniels has more than lived up to Gillmore's expectations for a two-time Pro Bowl tight end on the field and a mentor to many young Ravens off it. The team might not be where it is without him, and some of its young talent might not reach their potential without his veteran influence.
"Crockett is really lucky," said offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who first drafted Daniels when he was coach of the Houston Texans. "When you're a rookie and you step in a [meeting] room, obviously there are a lot of influences on you, and there can be none better than [Daniels]."
Daniels, who joined the Ravens in the offseason after eight seasons as Kubiak's primary tight end in Houston, is tied for third on the team with three touchdown catches, and third on the team with 328 receiving yards, both totals trailing Steve Smith and Torrey Smith. Coach John Harbaugh said Daniels, whose 33 catches are second on the club, has played "really well," and has proven those who counted him out after a broken leg in 2013 wrong.
He's emerged as an important cog in the Ravens offense, and when he's absent, as he was in Week 8 against Cincinnati following knee surgery, his impact on and off the field has been just as notable.
Gillmore, the third-round NFL draft pick who has played just over a third of the Ravens' snaps this year, has spelled both Daniels and injured tight end Dennis Pitta this year, and has seven catches for 53 yards on the season.
The crowning reception for Gillmore was his late touchdown against the Steelers Sunday, and Daniels' influence was evident. Daniels' veteran guile showed when he sold a pair blocks on play-action passes near the goal line and popped out for wide open touchdowns against the Steelers in Week 2. Gillmore, similarly, sold that he was blocking before popping out for his own score on Sunday, and said the details of such a play come from watching Daniels' every move.
"You like to draw everything up so you're wide open, but you're only wide open if you sell it first," Gillmore said. "You have to have been there and done that to understand the gimmick of the play. For a guy who's been around in this system and done it for so long [to tell you], it's been huge. I can't express how much that means to me, and what it's done for me to put me in the position I've been in."
Daniels has had rookies in the tight end room with him for the last several years, including Ravens practice squad tight end Phillip Supernaw last year in Houston, and his quiet, lead-by-example attitude has rubbed off on several Ravens this year.
"[Owen has] been a mentor for a lot of us on the offense, and you really couldn't ask for a better guy to look for, to be an example," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "He's a weight room guy, he's a practice field guy, and he's a gamer. You really can't ask for anything more."
Supernaw has spent his two years in the NFL in proximity to Daniels, and said his willingness to teach young players isn't a newfound virtue.
"He's never bigger than anyone else," Supernaw said. "Even though he's a veteran and he's older, he'll act like he's your best friend. … Something that's underrated ... how much patience he has with the younger guys. He doesn't really get frustrated. He's pretty even-keel all the time. Any time anyone has a question, it doesn't frustrate him. He's patient with it and he helps everyone out."
That Daniels has contributed at the level he has for the Ravens is attributable to his own physical preparation, his younger teammates say admiringly. Daniels missed two weeks in the preseason due to injury, and underwent a procedure to clean out his knee before the Cincinnati game, only to return a week later to lead the Ravens with six catches.
"I don't think I've seen anyone who pays more attention to their body than he does," Juszczyk said. "Sometimes, I feel like he knows more than the trainers. He's been in this business for so long and he's had every injury in the book, I feel like. He stays really on top of it, and he's in here hours after practice just doing his own treatment."
Even before practices, as younger players run special teams drills, Daniels' routine is precise. Earlier this week, he spent the entire time on the sidelines working and stretching his injured knee, his lunges methodical and precise every time he went to the ground.
"He's always doing what he's doing to make sure he can play," Supernaw said. "It's a testament that he has a knee surgery and he comes back and plays two weeks after. He does everything you have to do to be a professional, and he instills it in every younger guy."