After overhaul, different wide receivers leading Ravens' success

Marlon Brown tied a Ravens rookie franchise record last season with seven touchdown receptions. Jacoby Jones had arguably the Ravens' two biggest postseason catches during the Super Bowl XLVII run.

And neither player is factoring much in the team's new-look passing game these days. In a span of eight months, the Ravens overhauled their receiving group with a series of moves, some garnering a lot of attention and others barely generating a ripple.


Quarterback Joe Flacco's new targets, a group that includes accomplished veterans Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, young journeyman Kamar Aiken and rookie Michael Campanaro, are a big reason why the Ravens enter Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a 5-2 record and in first place in the AFC North.

"We have good guys," Flacco said. "Even whoever is not usually [active] for the game is a good receiver. No matter who is out there, I have confidence in them, and they are all making plays."


Of Flacco's 156 completions this year, 105 — just more than 67 percent — are to players who weren't on the roster last season. Smith, the Ravens' highest-profile free-agent addition, leads the team in catches (38), receiving yards (640) and is tied for the team lead with Torrey Smith for touchdown receptions (four).

Daniels is second on the team with 27 catches and three touchdowns. Aiken and Campanaro (River Hill) have nine and three receptions, respectively, but they each have a touchdown catch.

"I guess we're doing good," Steve Smith said. "At the end of the day, it's all evaluated on how well we do in the end, how far we go. It's Week 8, I think. To throw a party right now, I think is premature."

While there were some questions about how much he had left after playing 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers and after turning 35 in May, Steve Smith's productivity probably has been the least surprising development. He is a five-time Pro Bowl selection who entered the season with 836 catches, 12,197 receiving yards and 67 touchdown catches, after all. He also made plays throughout training camp.

Daniels, on the other hand, missed a majority of training camp and the preseason with a sore hamstring after being limited to just five games last season with the Houston Texans. However, since Dennis Pitta went down with a season-ending hip injury in Week 3, Daniels has 17 catches for 205 yards and a touchdown over the past four games.

Then, there's Aiken and Campanaro, who needed strong training camps to outlast a crowded wide receiver competition and make the initial 53-man roster. Aiken was signed to the Ravens' practice squad last October after he was released by the New England Patriots two months earlier. The Ravens are his fourth organization since he entered the league in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Central Florida.

Aiken didn't have a career catch entering the year, but he has become a regular on the Ravens' special team units, and he also has the nine catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.

"You know what you're getting yourself into," Aiken said. "It's not like you're practicing and [saying], 'OK, am I up this week? Am I down this week?' You kind of know I'm up this week, let me take care of my body and do the extra stuff. On that aspect, it's a good feeling."


Campanaro, who the Ravens selected in the seventh round in May after trading with the Cleveland Browns to get an extra pick, was inactive for the first five weeks of the season. However, he played his first NFL game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two weeks ago and had two catches for 28 yards and a touchdown. He added a 17-yard reception in Sunday's victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

"The first few weeks, I just knew looking on the depth chart [that] I'd be on scout team and probably be inactive for the game," Campanaro said. "But now I'm in the game plan, and I'm finding a niche with the offense. It's been a lot of fun. My snaps keep increasing. When they go back and watch the film, the coaches [like] what they're seeing. I'm just trying to get better from week-to-week."

Campanaro played 20 snaps against the Falcons and Aiken played 16, while Jones was limited to just four. A week earlier against Tampa Bay, Campanaro played 26 snaps and Aiken 15, compared to 19 for Jones.

Jones, who has struggled to hold onto the ball, has just four catches for 50 yards this year, and he has been held without a reception for four of the past five games. Brown, who hurt his pelvis but has been a full participant in practice the past two weeks, has been inactive in back-to-back games as the Ravens continue to dress five receivers on game days. That means one guy is the odd man out every week.

"I think it just goes to show how many talented receivers we have in the room," Campanaro said. "I think everyone is trying to get it done and is on top of their plays and is in the playbook. The coaching staff feels comfortable with whoever is out there. I know Marlon has been banged-up. He's been getting right, but we have other guys who can go in and pick up for other guys."

Brown had 49 catches for 524 yards and the seven touchdowns as a rookie last year. However, he has only four catches for 46 yards this season, and it's unclear whether he'll be active Sunday.


"Basically, all you can do is work and stay ready," Brown said. "I don't think it's anything different. Everybody is working hard. If your number gets called, it gets called."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh reiterated Wednesday that Brown remains in the team's plans.

"He's a part of what we're doing," Harbaugh said. "He could be the guy this week to make the difference."

So could Steve Smith or Torrey Smith, or Daniels, Aiken, Campanaro, or even Jones. The Ravens have shown that they're not afraid to rotate receivers in and out, even at key stages of the game. It has been a successful formula so far.

"I think the competition from training camp has spilled over to what guys are available, and it's gone to where if you make a mistake in the game, there is a guy coming up trying to capitalize on it," Steve Smith said. "I think healthy competition is always good."


Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.