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Tight ends becoming Ravens' favorite targets

Tight ends becoming Ravens' favorite targets.

Ever since the Ravens signed Benjamin Watson in the off-season and re-signed Dennis Pitta, the tight end position figured to be among the deepest on the team and the most utilized by the offense.

Training camp injuries to Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Daniel Brown and Pitta have left the Ravens with three healthy tight ends at times, including two, Darren Waller and Nick Boyle, who will miss the first four and 10 games, respectively, for violating the NFL drug policy.

It hasn't stopped offensive coordinator Marc Trestman from calling plays for his tight ends.

In Thursday's 22-19 preseason opening victory over the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium, tight ends were targeted for 16 of the 28 passes attempted by quarterbacks Ryan Mallett and Josh Johnson.

The tight ends responded with 11 catches for 105 yards, including five for 48 yards by Waller, a converted wide receiver.

It didn't surprise Watson, who didn't play against the Panthers but has been one of quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite targets throughout training camp. On Monday, the two connected on a number of passes, including one in which Watson beat linebacker Zachary Orr on a post pattern.

"They've been very successful before, last year, the year before," Watson said after practice. "Just watching our team over the past couple of years, and I haven't even been here, we've got some really good players on this team at that position. That's what was expected."

Asked if the Ravens are targeting tight ends more than in the past, Watson said, "I don't know if I would say that. The offense is pretty open and the quarterbacks do a good job of getting the ball to the open man. Obviously, the concepts where we get the ball to the tight ends, we work hard on those. The ball can go to anybody on any play, and that's the beauty of it."

Watson, who hopes to play against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday at Lucas Oil Field, will likely open the season as one of the starting tight ends, along with Gillmore, who returned to practice Monday after missing most of training camp with a hamstring injury. Pitta remains sidelined with a sprained finger.

The low-keyed Trestman seems to have a twinkle in his eye when he talks about his tight ends.

"I'm generally excited about the whole group, but certainly we have a talented bunch of guys at that position," Trestman said Monday.

Smith looks sharp

Cornerback Jimmy Smith, who struggled last season after coming back from a serious foot injury in 2014, had not looked sharp through the first three weeks of training camp, including in the preseason game against the Panthers.

On Monday, the former first-round draft pick looked more like the player he was before sustaining the Lisfranc injury that shortened his 2014 to eight games. He broke up several passes, including when Flacco was trying to go deep to Kamar Aiken.

Smith had a procedure in the off-season to remove a screw from the foot.

"I've had 10 practices since this has started. Every day I feel better and better," he said. "That's just kind of my focus."

Given how banged up the Ravens are in the secondary, Smith will certainly get a lot of reps this week. There are five defensive backs out with injuries, and rookie Maurice Canady has been in and out of the lineup.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said the only benefit to so many players being out is that it gives him a chance to look at others.

"There's good and bad, but obviously you'd like to have everybody there."

End zone

Wide receiver Kaelin Clay, who was injured in Saturday's practice, was waived with an injured designation Monday. He was replaced on the roster by free agent Darius White, a 6-3, 205-pound receiver who began his college career at Texas and finished at Missouri in 2014. … There were 17 players out Monday, after 23 sat out Saturday's session.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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