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Michael Campanaro eyes expanded role as receiver, returner for Ravens

Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro spent his rookie season absorbing knowledge of the playbook and adjusting to the rigors of the NFL.

That included the River Hill graduate battling a lingering hamstring injury that tested his patience and limited him to four games, seven catches, 102 yards and a touchdown in the regular season.

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Campanaro is eyeing a potential expanded role on offense and in the return game as one of the top candidates to replace Jacoby Jones on special teams.

"I'm extremely excited," Campanaro told The Baltimore Sun as the Ravens prepared to start their first round of organized team activities this week at their training complex. "Rookie years are difficult for anyone getting on a new team and figuring out the playbook and adjusting to the NFL game. Year Two, I just feel more comfortable.

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"We basically kept our same offense. With another year in the system after going through installs and running plays, you feel way more comfortable. It's like second nature. That should allow me to play faster because you know what you're doing."

Campanaro caught a career high three passes for 40 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in October and returned two punts for 17 yards, but the Clarksville native pulled his hamstring.

Once he returned in December, Campanaro caught one pass for 17 yards in the Ravens' regular-season finale. Then, he caught four passes for 39 yards during the Ravens' AFC divisional round playoff loss to the New England Patriots.

Campanaro ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at the NFL scouting combine and had a 39-inch vertical leap, a 10-2 broad jump, a 6.77 three-cone drill and bench pressed 225 pounds 20 times. In an effort to remain as healthy as possible, Campanaro has devoted himself to a training regimen that includes a lot of stretching, yoga and pilates.

"Just having a full NFL offseason is going to be crucial for myself," Campanaro said. "There's plenty of time to work on things. You know you have to be ready to make it through an entire NFL season. You do everything you have to do in the offseason so you can last the whole season and perform. I've been working on a lot of things to keep the hamstrings loose."

During his rookie season, Campanaro caught roughly 20 punts per practice and picked up a lot of valuable tips from Jones. A former Pro Bowl kick returner, Jones was cut this offseason and signed with the San Diego Chargers. His departure opens up jobs returning punts and kickoffs.

"I definitely think I can help the team out in the return game, definitely on punt returns," Campanaro said. "The coaching staff trusts me back there from a year of catching punts and I got some game experience. Anytime you can earn the coaches' trust, that's huge.

"A return can be a momentum-shifter. I'm excited to go out there and compete for both spots. I'm definitely ready to contribute on special teams and show the coaches I'm dependable back there."

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After Torrey Smith signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March, the Ravens receiving corps is in flux.

Campanaro is slated to compete with returning receivers Kamar Aiken (24 catches, 267 yards, three touchdowns) and Marlon Brown (24 catches, 255 yards) for playing time. The Ravens also drafted speedy wide receiver Breshad Perriman in the first round. Perriman could start opposite five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith.

Drafted in the seventh round last offseason, Campanaro caught a school-record 229 passes at Wake Forest and finished with 2,506 career yards and 14 touchdowns.

"It's going to be wide open as far as opportunities for guys to step up and fill those roles," Campanaro said. "There's a lot of opportunity in the receiving room and a lot of targets to go around. Guys are working hard on their games and trying to win a spot.

"I'm excited to play with Breshad. He definitely adds a lot to the offense. We all bring something different to the table in our own ways. He's a different player for us, a great guy. He fits well in our room. It's going to be fun to play with him."

Although Smith recently celebrated his 36th birthday, he led the Ravens last season with 79 receptions for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns.

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"Steve's presence in our room and on our team is so big," Campanaro said. "Having him out there as a player is huge. His numbers, his play speaks for itself and as a leader. Getting to talk to him and learn from him, I know, personally, he's great at helping us to get better and help the team get better. I was so happy when he said he was coming back for another season."

The Ravens have a new offensive coordinator in Marc Trestman, the former Chicago Bears coach who was hired this offseason after Gary Kubiak became the Denver Broncos head coach.

"Coach Trestman has been great," Campanaro said. "You could tell from the first meeting we had with him that he's an offensive genius. To listen to him talk and break down why we're running something, he slows things down and teaches everybody. We've been catching on great."

This week marks the first time the Ravens have a chance to get back on the field together since their loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

"It's fun to get back into the swing of things," Campanaro said. "When you lose the way we lost last season, you want to get back out there and forget about it. It's a new season, a new year and we're ready to get out there and play some football."

awilson@baltsun.com

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