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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It wasn’t long ago that Joe Flacco joked about not knowing the names of most new teammates on the Ravens roster after an offseason filled with changes.
However, the Ravens quarterback isn’t saying that any longer about a pair of rookie receivers who could factor heavily into the Baltimore passing attack as early as Thursday’s opener against the Denver Broncos. Undrafted free agent Marlon Brown and seventh-round pick Aaron Mellette began the summer in relative anonymity in Flacco’s eyes but grabbed his attention after the pair combined to make 19 catches for 309 yards and four touchdowns in four preseason games.
“They’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast, and they’re physical,” Flacco said. “They obviously have some talent. I think they are going to be guys that help us out a lot — in the short term [and] long term. We still have to go out there and play and feed them the ball and see what they can do.”
Mellette entered training camp as the bigger household name among Ravens fans after being taken with a seventh-round pick back in April. Playing for FCS school Elon, the 6-foot-2 receiver made an astonishing 304 catches for 4,254 yards and 44 touchdowns in his college career and grabbed 97 passes for 1,398 yards and 18 touchdowns in his senior year alone.
The 6-foot-5 Brown didn’t live up to expectations as a prized recruit at the University of Georgia but could be an attractive option in the red zone with his statuesque frame. The Ravens have lacked a wide receiver of his height during Flacco’s career after 2012 sixth-round pick Tommy Streeter failed to pan out.
Brown finally appeared to be realizing his potential in his senior season with the Bulldogs when he caught 27 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns before tearing the ACL in his left knee in a game against Ole Miss on Nov. 3, 2012. The 22-year-old is still working his way back to full strength — missing spring organized team activities and even a handful this summer — but his ability began to shine as he became more comfortable physically and mentally in the Ravens offense.
“I have a mindset where I wanted to make the team and ultimately make a difference on the team, whether it’s on special teams or offense,” said Brown, who was in the weight room when coach John Harbaugh personally informed him that he’d made the team. “That’s what I’m trying to do. They haven’t really told me my primary role or anything. I’m going to go out there and work hard and if they tell me to go in, I’m going to go in.”
The biggest compliment paid to both Brown and Mellette is the amount of polish they showed in practices and preseason games despite their lack of experience. Unlike an array of other young receivers that failed to show marked improvement over the course of the summer, Brown and Mellette climbed from the third-string offense and working with third quarterback Caleb Hanie to eventually receive opportunities with Flacco and the starters over the final two weeks of the summer.
It was this climb that contributed to the likes of Tandon Doss, David Reed, and LaQuan Williams being let go.
“They don’t feel like rookies out there,” Harbaugh said. “Marlon has had the advantage of playing at a big program in the Southeastern Conference, and I think that shows. Aaron has had the advantage of having caught hundreds of balls in his college career.”
With Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Brandon Stokley ahead of the rookies on the depth chart, it remains to be seen how big of a role each will play in the early stages of the season. During Sunday’s practice, Brown and Mellette were wearing No. 87 and 88 jerseys, which appeared to be a product of the pair playing the scout-team roles of Denver wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in preparation for Thursday’s opener.
The Ravens only hope that Mellette and Brown will one day make their mark in a way similar to that talented pair with the Broncos, forcing opponents’ scout-team receivers to wear their No. 13 and 14 jerseys in preparation.
But a simple continuation of the improvement they showed over the course of the preseason would be an encouraging start for the Ravens.
“I would anticipate that those two guys will be a factor here going forward,” Harbaugh said. “How much they’ll play early, or how much they’ll be a part of the game plan and those kinds of things are really, really hard to say.”
Webb ready to go