"[The coaches] did a good job of keeping us together and keeping all the distractions out," receiver Kamar Aiken said. "It speaks for ourselves what we did this year and accomplished throughout everything we had to deal with." (Kevin Richardson)
Kamar Aiken gradually earned the trust of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco as a downfield target last season, being counted on more frequently as their chemistry improved.
By the end of the year Flacco and Aiken were clicking; the wide receiver and special teams standout finished the season with a career-high 24 receptions for 267 yards and three touchdowns.
"I think he was able to gain more confidence in me," Aiken told The Baltimore Sun. "Of course, I always had confidence in him. For quarterbacks, it takes a while to get used to how you run and your personality with the routes.
"As the season went on, we got more comfortable with each other and what he expects from me as far as how to run certain routes. We got more in sync with each other."
Aiken has set his ambitions on increasing his role for next season. Reporting Monday to the Ravens' training complex for the start of a voluntary offseason conditioning program and to sign his $585,000 exclusive-rights tender, Aiken is upbeat about his outlook.
"I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity," Aiken said. "Last year put me in a good situation. They didn't ask me to do too much or put me in tough situations where I had to make a great play. They put me in situations where I was able to win and be successful.
"I want to build off of that and take the momentum and run with it. You want to build on last year and pass all the numbers I did last year."
In order to do that, Aiken is hoping to win a starting job. He finished fourth on the team in receiving yards last season despite only being targeted 32 times.
"Everybody wants to be a starter," Aiken said. "That comes with the territory. I try not to set statistical goals because it kind of limits yourself. I take the approach of embracing the moment and always trying to do my best."
The Ravens lost starting wide receiver Torrey Smith to the San Francisco 49ers this offseason when he signed a five-year, $40 million contract.
They return Aiken, Marlon Brown and Michael Campanaro, who are expected to battle for playing time opposite five-time Pro Bowl selection Steve Smith. The Ravens are also likely to draft a wide receiver.
"I think they'll definitely give us all a chance to show what we can do," Aiken said. "I would expect the team to follow through with us. We have a good group and a future Hall of Famer in Steve to learn from."
Aiken caught a career-high six passes for 65 yards and a touchdown in a December win over the Miami Dolphins that helped the Ravens earn a wild-card playoff spot. He's trying to refine his pass patterns for next season.
"I just want to be a little more fluent route runner," Aiken said. "I want to be a little bit quicker. I feel like I'm explosive now, but I want to get that quickness.
"I didn't really establish myself as a deep-ball route runner last season. I did that my whole college career. I want to be known more for that than intermediate routes."
A fast 6-foot-2, 215-pound former undrafted free agent who caught 121 passes for 1,924 yards and 17 touchdowns at Central Florida, Aiken hadn't caught a pass until last season after playing three games in NFL stints with the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills.
The 25-year-old has bounced around the league off and on practice squads, including being cut by the Patriots, Chicago Bears, Patriots and Bills before initially being signed by the Ravens during the 2013 season and then to a reserve-future deal last year.
"Facing all of life's challenges, Kamar is establishing himself in the NFL and taking full advantage of the opportunities the Ravens are providing," said Frederick Lyles, Aiken's agent. "Kamar possesses a refreshing blue-collar work ethic and will not be denied attitude that will propel him to success on and off the field."
Aiken was recruited by Florida State and Florida as a safety out of high school before playing wide receiver at Central Florida and going undrafted in 2011.
"It's been a long road to get to this point," Aiken said. "I'm looking forward to getting back around the guys and see what the team looks like."
Aiken said he's spoken with new Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, but is looking forward to learning more about his philosophy.
"We've talked a couple of times, just more getting to know me," Aiken said. "He stayed away from the football stuff."
Aiken blocked a punt last season against the Jacksonville Jaguars that safety Darian Stewart returned for a touchdown and anticipates having a major role on special teams again for special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.
"That was one thing Harbs [coach John Harbaugh] said that if you're good on special teams, they'll reward you with playing time on offense," Aiken said. "I took that to heart. I enjoy special teams. Jerry makes it fun for us and puts us in good situations."