Most talk surrounding the Ravens need to improve their 19th-ranked passing game from a season ago has centered around the development of a talented but raw group of young wide receivers.
While many wonder if Torrey Smith will build upon his record-setting rookie season and some combination of Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams, and Tommy Streeter can etch out roles in the offense, Anquan Boldin keeps working to remind everyone he’s still the Ravens’ most dependable receiver.
Despite recording only 57 catches — one shy of his career low — and 887 receiving yards in 14 regular-season games, Boldin hopes his postseason performance upon returning from knee surgery is a sign of better things to come in his third season in Baltimore. The 31-year-old registered 10 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown in two postseason games, looking more comfortable than he did at any point in the regular season.
“Last year was tough just because I came into camp with the injury,” Boldin said. “I had a partial tear of my meniscus the entire year. There were times where it swelled up, and it was tough to get in and out of my cuts. But after the surgery, it felt great, and I’ve had the entire offseason to rehab and get a lot stronger. I’m moving around a lot better, a lot quicker.”
It’s no secret that Boldin’s production has been underwhelming in two seasons after the Ravens traded a third and a fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals prior to the 2010 draft. Boldin struggled to find a rapport in his first season with Joe Flacco since the young quarterback still had familiar targets in Derrick Mason and Todd Heap on which he could rely. Last season, the lockout eliminated the entire offseason, a period of time in which quarterbacks and wide receivers can grow together exponentially.
Boldin averaged a career-high 15.6 yards per catch despite modest numbers last season, but he’s feeling as comfortable as ever as he begins his third season with Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
“Understanding what the coaches are expecting, what Joe is expecting, [being] on the same page as Joe, seeing what he sees,” Boldin said. “For me and him, we talk after every play. ‘What are you seeing on this? This coverage, what are you thinking?’ I think as we go on, the relationship just grows.”
Entering his 10th season, Boldin is eligible to receive periodic days off as part of coach John Harbaugh’s famed “30-and-over club” to keep veterans fresh, but the wide receiver prefers staying on the practice field, explaining his need to improve and how one player’s absence can upset the rotation at the receiver position.
It’s an attitude that not only sets a shining example for his younger teammates but is also noticed by the coaching staff.
“He still comes in with a mindset he’s going to work every day to get better,” wide receivers coach Jim Hostler said. “It might be a little bit different than the young guys. It might be a little bit more precision. It might be a little bit more detail, but he still approaches it that way. It’s still, ‘I’m going to do whatever I can to make this the best year I have ever had.’”
The offense shined during Monday’s practice as Flacco threw touchdown passes to Boldin and backup tight end Davon Drew during 11-on-11 red zone drills. Drew will now see an increased role as the No. 2 tight end behind Ed Dickson with Dennis Pitta breaking his hand during the workout.
Flacco also completed a beautiful deep ball to Jacoby Jones, who beat cornerback Jimmy Smith down the right sideline.
The quarterback continued his fine start to training camp, picking apart a Baltimore defense that was without defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, linebackers Ray Lewis and Courtney Upshaw, and safety Ed Reed.
At one point during practice, an angry Harbaugh challenged his defense by asking sarcastically if they felt like covering anybody.
The kicking competition between veteran Billy Cundiff and rookie Justin Tucker continued on a similar path to what we saw last week. Cundiff connected on field goals from 20, 36, and 52 yards before missing a 55-yarder wide left. Tucker produced the same results, only the former Texas kicker missed his 55-yard attempt wide right.
We’re still waiting for our first fight of training camp, but cornerback Cary Williams and wide receiver Tandon Doss engaged in a verbal altercation that became quite heated during the afternoon practice.
Williams was matched up against Torrey Smith in passing drills, and the wide receiver took exception with the amount of contact on the play. Doss then began jawing with Williams, and the cornerback took exception with a player sidelined with an injury deciding to critique what was happening on the practice field.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed as the horn sounded and the players moved to the next period of the afternoon practice.