At 31, Anquan Boldin is the oldest receiver on the Ravens roster by a few years (newcomer Jacoby Jones is closest in age at 27). Some of his fellow wide-outs were in middle school when he broke into the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals nine years ago, and they no doubt grew up watching him score touchdowns on TV.
Boldin laughed Wednesday when asked about resuming his leadership role among the Ravens' relatively inexperienced wide receiving corps. "I get stuck with that every year," he said. Despite the joke, it's clearly a role Boldin doesn't mind, as evidenced by his presence at this week's voluntary offseason team activities.
"You didn't think I was going to be here? I felt it was important for me to be here," said Boldin, the team leader in catches and receiving yards in 2011. "We have a lot of young guys. I think we're in a situation where they can learn just by seeing me out there, seeing me working. I felt my presence was very important."
On Wednesday, the only day of practice this week open to the media, Boldin looked fresh and healthy after playing through a knee injury in last year's playoffs. He and Torrey Smith, who is 23 and in his second NFL season, ran routes for quarterback Joe Flacco, and were joined by Jones in their three-receiver sets.
Running with the second-team offense were two second-year players in Tandon Doss (22 years old) and LaQuan Williams (23) and at times a pair of rookies in Tommy Streeter (22) and Deonte Thompson (23).
The Ravens had 13 wide receivers in camp this week if you include third-year receiver David Reed, who is working his way back from knee surgery. Only four are 25 or older (Reed is 25 and Patrick Williams is 26).
"The good thing about it is we have a lot of good young guys willing to learn. You don't have to say anything," said Boldin, now in his third year in Baltimore. "As soon as they come back off doing a rep, they're asking you, 'What did you see? How can I improve on this?' It's definitely interactive with those guys."
That youth is a blessing and a curse. The crowded group of green receivers has plenty of talent and upside, and the competition should benefit them. But the lack of experience could be a factor during the season if Boldin, Smith or Jones, who is the frontrunner to replace Lee Evans as the No. 3 receivers, were to get hurt.
A few of the offensive players who spoke with reporters Wednesday, including Boldin, expressed optimism that the offense would improve in 2012. Boldin disagreed with Flacco, though, who believes there is more pressure on the offense with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs sidelined after surgery on his Achilles tendon. Boldin simply feels the offense, which he said was great at times last season, needs to be more consistent.
On a personal level, Boldin said he hasn't watched tape of the AFC championship game in January and doesn't seem to be planning to do so, but he has been using the loss as motivation throughout the offseason.
"It makes you work even harder. It makes you concentrate on the small things," said Boldin, who caught 57 passes for 887 receiving yards and three scores in 2011. "There's nobody that could have told me we were going to lose that game. Until the clock hit zero, I still thought we were going to win. There's no way I thought we wouldn't go to the Super Bowl. That's how I feel this year. I feel like we're going to win it. That's the great thing about each year. It brings optimism. It brings a fresh start. I like where we are right now."