A chorus of questions about whether there's enough wide receiver talent at quarterback Joe Flacco's disposal this season grows louder this week with the potential loss of Steve Smith Sr., plus a season-ending back injury to Michael Campanaro.
Kamar Aiken, the former practice squad player who will step into the top receiving spot on the depth chart after spending the first four weeks at No. 2, said he and the remaining wide receivers aren't fazed by the pressure.
"We've been getting that even with Steve being 100-percent," Aiken said on a conference call with local media Tuesday. "I don't think that's going to change. We're just going to continue to grind, and just count on each other. We're a pretty confident group in each other, and I think we'll get the job done."
Smith is week-to-week with microfractures in his back, Campanaro is on injured reserve and out for the season with a back injury, and tight end Crockett Gillmore is week-to-week with a calf strain.
Flacco has 102 completions for 1,049 passing yards and five touchdowns this year. Four of those touchdowns, 44 of those completions, and 559 of those passing yards came to that trio, leaving Aiken as the leading receiver with 165 yards and a touchdown through four games. His 11 catches are second among healthy players to running back Justin Forsett's 12.
Also remaining are Marlon Brown, who is averaging two catches and a shade under 19 yards per game; rookie Darren Waller, who caught his first career pass last week against the Steelers; and Chris Givens, a speed receiver acquired on Saturday after falling out of favor with the St. Louis Rams.
Aiken made clear that his role, the quality of the cornerback covering him, his fantasy football prognosis, and his team's crowded training room are inconsequential to how he'll perform in his new role.
What is important to him is the consistency that's eluded Aiken as his role has grown in the Ravens offense.
"It's important to always just be more consistent and just be able to stack those games," he said. "At the same time, I can only control what I can control and that's just day by day and going to work and doing what I can do to prepare myself for those situations."
The Ravens returned from their Week 10 bye in 2014 to pound the New Orleans Saints on the ground for a 34-27 Monday Night Football win on the road. After that, Aiken grew into a bigger role in the offense, but his production varied from week to week.
He followed a three-catch, 51-yard performance against the San Diego Chargers in Week 12 with a career-high six catches for 65 yards and his first touchdown a week later at Miami against the Dolphins, but was held without a catch on two total targets in the next two games.
Aiken returned to the end zone with two catches and 13 yards against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17, and had one catch in each of the Ravens' two playoff games last year, the latter going for a 19-yard touchdown.
His 2015 season has been just as uneven. Aiken caught one pass for -1 yard in the season opener at the Denver Broncos, and after fumbling on the first play of the game against the Oakland Raiders, finished with five catches for 89 yards on seven targets.
But the Cincinnati Bengals shut him out with no catches on one target before he opened his scoring account Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers with five catches, 77 yards and a touchdown.
This week is important for setting himself up to follow that big performance with another.
"[For] me personally, just doing what I have to do during the week, during practice," Aiken said. "I put a lot of credit to the coaches putting me in good spots and positions to win. I'd say a combination of both should help us out a little more for the consistency."
He'll have support in that area from quarterback Joe Flacco, whom Aiken credited on the conference call with encouraging his receivers even when things get tough.
Baltimore Ravens Insider
"I know you guys might not see him talk much or encourage much, but he's always trying to motivate us in the huddle, tell us, 'Let's go,'" Aiken said. "It's great to have Joe as a quarterback, even with us going through all this."
He also said Flacco is one of the best he's seen at spreading the ball around and getting it to whoever is open, which might go far to explain Aiken's answer when asked what his reaction would have been if someone told him in the offseason he'd be the No. 1 receiver by Week 5.
"What's a No. 1 receiver?" Aiken asked. "I wouldn't know what to say. I feel like all those top threats, it just depends where the ball goes that day."
On Sunday, with Smith likely out and the wide receiver depth chart drained, the ball will likely go to Aiken. His shoulder pads will still feel like they're carrying the same weight as ever against the Browns.
"I don't feel any personal responsibility," Aiken said. "We're still a group, and we're still going to approach it the same way."