Kamar Aiken hasn't allowed himself to think back to last year's edition of the seemingly annual Ravens trip to Miami, a homecoming game for the South Florida native who happened to have his best game of the 2014 season against the Dolphins.

That's because almost a year to the day after that breakout game on Dec. 7, 2014, at Sun Life Stadium, Aiken returns Sunday in the midst of a breakout season for the Ravens. He has been a bright spot in a wide receiver group thinned by injuries that relies on him — perhaps the most unexpected No. 1 receiver in the NFL — heavily.


"It's an opportunity," Aiken said. "It just makes you approach the game every week a little bit different. Your team is going to lean on you a little more, so you've got to prepare yourself for it. I've been happy for the opportunities they've been giving me, to be honest. They don't have to, and they have been. I'm happy for it."

Aiken's two homecoming games, a year apart, come under different circumstances for both teams — they met last year as playoff contenders but arrive at Sunday's matchup with 4-7 records this year. But Aiken's personal circumstances might make this trip home a bit more memorable.

Aiken's 2014 game in Miami — a six-catch, 65-yard performance with a touchdown in a 28-13 win — appeared a one-off in that season, an outburst by a player who had been on the margins for much of the year but showed late signs of improvement.

He recorded four catches in last year's season opener, and his first career touchdown in a rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6, but was mostly quiet entering the Miami game.

The two other touchdowns he scored late in the season, one in the regular-season finale and another in the playoffs, proved to be a precursor to a bigger role this year after the departure of wide receiver Torrey Smith. During training camp, Aiken emerged as the Ravens' clear second-best option.

Considered in the context of the NFL through 11 games, Aiken's statistics don't stand out. Early in the season, so much of the offense flowed through Smith, and Aiken was essentially shut down by the Denver Broncos in Week 1, the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3, and the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7.

His season totals of 43 receptions (55th in the NFL), 536 receiving yards (47th) and 48.7 receiving yards per game (60th) aren't those of a top receiver, though he's tied for the team lead with four touchdown catches.

But after Smith went down with a season-ending Achilles injury late in the third quarter of the Week 8 win over the San Diego Chargers, Aiken caught five passes for 59 yards to key the Ravens' second win of the season. He hasn't stopped since.

Since he assumed Smith's role in the Ravens offense after the Week 9 bye, Aiken is tied for fifth in the NFL with 32 targets, and has the seventh-most receptions in the league (18). He has accounted for 203 receiving yards and two touchdowns in that span.

Aiken sees it as the fulfillment — over two years later — of a promise made to him by general manager Ozzie Newsome when he joined the practice squad in 2013.

"Those guys definitely gave me a chance," Aiken said. "From Day One when I came here, they told me if I can play, I'm going to play, and it's been that."

Fellow receiver Marlon Brown said Aiken hasn't changed along the ride from a practice squad receiver on his fourth team in three seasons to a starter who plays nearly every snap. The success hasn't changed his work ethic, but it certainly isn't lost on him, Brown said.

"Seeing him all the time and hanging out with him outside the building, I can definitely tell he's finally like, '[I'm] blessed,'" Brown said. "Thinking, 'I'm so glad this is finally happening for me. Everything is going the way I wanted it to.' I feel like everybody in the league has different paths.

"It gives hope to other guys who are undrafted in the league, just watching him. That's all it is."


Aiken's success is well earned in the eyes of many of his teammates, Brown said. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil played high school football in Miami with Aiken's brother, and said the boy called "Poppi" he knew as a middle school player "maximized an opportunity for himself."

"He worked extremely hard," Dumervil said. "I'm happy for him."

Part of that hard work has come in practice, where the durable Aiken has developed a rapport with both Joe Flacco and backup quarterback Matt Schaub.

Aiken was just as big a part of the offense in Schaub's first start Sunday as he was for Flacco, something Schaub said is a result of Aiken's ability to "understand what the quarterbacks are thinking, and coverages, and [make] subtle route adjustments."

"Kamar does run crisp routes and he doesn't confuse the quarterback with his breaks," Schaub said. "He's shown the ability to have strong hands and go and attack the football, not wait on the football. You've got to love that as a quarterback."

Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell believes a receiver of Aiken's skill set fits well with the Ravens' run-based, play-action passing game.

"I think it serves everybody well, but I think he's that type of receiver because he does so much blocking on the perimeter. That's what they're asked to do. That really helps him," Campbell said. "It highlights his abilities. That's where you get the big plays from him."


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