Baltimore Ravens

With depth at receiver, Ravens now have to keep everyone happy

Kamar Aiken caught 75 passes for 944 yards and was the Ravens' most productive offensive player last season. Yet, when the Ravens ran their first offensive play last Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, he was on the sideline.

Aiken, though, played most of the Ravens' special teams snaps against Buffalo.


"I would much rather play more receiver, but for right now, what the team needs is special teams, so I'll do special teams," Aiken said. "I'm fine with it. I'm one of those guys that whatever you ask me to do, I'm going to do anyway, so it will get done."

Aiken played 36 of 68 offensive snaps (53 percent) against the Bills after he was on the field for nearly 83 percent of the Ravens' offensive plays last season. He also logged 16 snaps on special teams Sunday, two more than he played in the entire 2015 season.


His new set of responsibilities is a byproduct of the team's increased depth at wide receiver and at the other offensive skill positions. Whether it's playing special teams, getting fewer snaps or being used as a decoy or secondary option on certain plays, many Ravens have been asked to embrace reduced or revamped roles for the benefit of the team.

"I think we've been there, we've been the guy, and we understand what that can be like. But at the same time, we understand how much help it is to have other guys," said tight end Crockett Gillmore who started all 10 games he played in last year, but is now considered the No. 2 tight end behind Dennis Pitta. "Last year, it just felt like your foot was on the edge of the cliff and you either had to fight back or get pushed over. We fought our [butts] off. I think it helped us grow and be tougher and better. But we knew we were getting help. We've seen it on both extremes and I think we like how it is now."

When Mike Wallace sprinted into the end zone for his 66-yard touchdown catch Sunday, Steve Smith Sr. was the first player to greet him. Smith absorbed a double team on the game's decisive play, allowing Wallace to run free against a safety.

Smith has worked with Wallace and Breshad Perriman before practice, and Wallace has spent significant time with Perriman on the JUGS machine after workouts. Then, there's Aiken running down the field on special teams and covering punts.

"Kamar, his role switched in 2015 because of the injuries we had at wide receiver," Ravens associate head coach and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "He can go out there and play wide receiver with the best of them. He had a great year. Now we have all of the wide receivers back, and he's the best special teams player of the bunch. So he's going to get special teams work because we're trying to win."

In the season-opening victory over the Bills, Smith played 44 offensive snaps — one more than Wallace and nine more than Aiken. Second-year receiver Breshad Perriman played 21 and rookie fourth-round pick Chris Moore was on the field for 14.

"I definitely want to be out there more," Aiken said. "I try not and get caught up in it, because it would frustrate you and cause your play to go in the opposite way. I kind of keep it down just to be able to go out there and do what I'm supposed to do. … That's just how the league is. You just have to get in where you fit in, make your plays when you get your chance and do what you can with the ones you did get. We know our room is stacked. We just feel like any of us can win when you get those chances and we've got to embrace it and wait for those chances to come."

Smith, who had five receptions for 19 yards against the Bills, bristled when he was asked following the game about whether he was still in favor of having such a deep group of receivers. He accused the questioner of "fishing with nothing on your line."


Smith said Thursday the Ravens wide receivers "jell perfectly" and have a camaraderie that allows them to all accept their roles and root for each other.

"When you go out there and see a guy make a great play, everybody is over there excited," Smith said. "Just looking at it, I don't think the Ravens have ever had offensively this many weapons. You have a crowded backfield. You have a crowd at tight end. Offensively, we're stacked the way you've known Baltimore to be stacked on defense.

"It's not like we're champing at the bit to get our turn. We're getting turns. We're rotating the wide receivers like the D-linemen do. I don't know if people know this, but I didn't even play in the first series of the second half. I got myself rested. We feel confident in that. It's a great, healthy competition."

Smith, in his 16th and likely final NFL season, is 34 receptions shy of 1,000 in his career. Another solid season statistically would strengthen his Hall of Fame credentials. The other Ravens' receivers have plenty at stake as well.

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Aiken is in a contract year. Wallace is motivated to stop the downward trend in his numbers. After missing all of last season with a knee injury, Perriman is trying to justify his status as a first-round pick and prove he can stay on the field. Moore wants to establish himself in the NFL. But there is only one ball to go around, and only so many receivers offensive coordinator Marc Trestman can have on the field at the same time.

Trestman acknowledged Thursday that it is difficult to keep everybody happy, but the team clearly views it as a good problem to have, and it certainly beats last year's alternative, when injuries ravaged the Ravens at the offensive skill positions.


"If we have players who didn't want the ball, I'd be concerned. That's just the nature of the position. They all want the ball, but they are an unselfish bunch, and they see the talent around them, and they're looking at it in the long haul, too. We're going to need everybody," Trestman said. "I'm sure the time will come when somebody's not going to get it as much as they want and will come by and say, 'Hey, what about getting me the ball?' and that's just part of it. They can make plays, and the only way they can do that is with the ball in their hands. We do the best we can to move them around and make sure that everyone gets touches."

That onus will fall primarily on the shoulders of quarterback Joe Flacco who completed passes to 10 different players against the Bills. That sort of balance will be hard to maintain Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and in weeks going forward. But for now, the Ravens plethora of pass catchers are seemingly saying and doing all the right things.

"We're going to figure it out. It's one game in," Smith said. "I love that we have these guys in there because there are packages. Kamar knows he's going to get his. I'm going to get mine. Mike is going to get his. Breshad is going to get his. Chris is going to get his. When we're out there, we always say to each other, 'Hey, race you to the end zone.' That's fun to do."