One year after catching seven touchdown passes, which tied a Ravens rookie record, wide receiver Marlon Brown found himself without a definitive role last season.
He still got on the field and contributed on special teams and in other ways. But the player who caught 49 balls in 2013 and emerged as one of the team's top red-zone threats didn't have a reception until Week 3 in 2014. In five of his first six games, Brown caught one ball or fewer, and he never got into the end zone.
What exactly happened?
"Steve Smith came in," Brown said matter-of-factly on Wednesday, the third day of the Ravens' voluntary offseason conditioning program. "I didn't feel like I was forgotten or nothing. Steve Smith was on the team. That's Steve Smith, he's a Hall of Famer. I had no problem with it. It's a coach's decision and I'm very coachable. If the coach tells me, 'Steve is going to come in and do this,' I was like, 'It's all good.' I'm a team guy. Small me, big team."
Brown, though, was confident his time would come, and he senses that now more than ever as the free-agent exit of Torrey Smith has left the Ravens with a young and relatively unproven receiving group behind Steve Smith.
"It was real hard for me because we were close," Brown said of Torrey Smith's departure to the San Francisco 49ers. "He was like my big brother on and off the field. He taught me so much. I was talking to him and he was just telling me, 'You're young, but your time is going to come.' Now, it's here. I feel like I just have to capitalize on my opportunity."
Though Steve Smith is the Ravens' only returning receiver who caught more than 25 passes last season, team officials have downplayed the need to add a veteran. Their reasoning is that they expect several of the team's young receivers — a group that includes Brown, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro (River Hill) and Jeremy Butler — to produce when given bigger roles.
Brown, after all, has done it before. He made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia in 2013 and started 12 games for the Ravens. His 49 catches ranked third on the team and his 524 receiving yards were second.
With a combination of good size (6 feet 5, 214 pounds) and speed, Brown figured to build off his impressive rookie campaign. However, he struggled to adjust to Gary Kubiak's offense and dropped a number of balls in training camp. He missed two games with a pelvic injury and never separated himself from the Ravens' other secondary receiving options.
He regained some confidence late in the season, catching 11 balls during one three-game stretch. In the Ravens' AFC divisional playoff round loss to the New England Patriots, Brown tied a season-high with five catches for 39 yards.
Brown finished the season with 24 catches for 255 yards, but he felt that his persistence and hard work were rewarded with his improved production later in the year. Now, he's looking for more.
"I definitely feel like this could be a big year for me," said Brown who turned 24 years old on Wednesday. "I feel like I've grown. I feel like I've gotten better all around — blocking, catching, just being more consistent in my route running. I'm just trying to get better."
Ravens running back Justin Forsett said that Brown is "not your ordinary receiver."
"Marlon is a tough guy, man," Forsett said. "He'll go down, make nice catches, one-handed grabs and then you'll see him running down on special teams, trying to take somebody's head off. He's one of those guys who is an all-around player. He can block, catch, do it all."
Brown maintains that he's not concerned about the possibility of the Ravens drafting a wide receiver in the early-to-mid rounds next week. Last season taught him a valuable lesson to just worry about himself and make sure that he's ready to play and contribute.
"I feel like it's our time as a receiving corps to prove to the world that we're here and we can play," Brown said. "I feel like the guys in our room, we're just going to keep getting better, keep grinding and keep showing the coaches that we have some guys in here, too."