With ‘stacked’ of­fense, Ravens must find ac­tion for ev­ery­one

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS WEEK­END - Jeff.zre­biec@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/jef­fzre­biec­sun

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 dou­bleteam on the game’s de­ci­sive play, al­low­ing Wal­lace to run free against a safety.

Smith has worked with Wal­lace and sec­ond-year re­ceiver 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. 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 af­ter the game 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 one another.

“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 Dline­men 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 short of1,000 in his ca­reer. An ad­di­tional solid sea­son sta­tis­ti­cally would strengthen his Hall of Fame cre­den­tials. The other Ravens re­ceivers have plenty at stake as well.

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 play­ers against the Bills.

That sort of bal­ance will be hard to main­tain Sun­day against the Cleve­land Browns and in fu­ture weeks. But for now, the Ravens’ 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.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BALTIMORE SUN

Steve Smith Sr. (89), with Devin Hester (14) and Mike Wal­lace, said Thurs­day that the Ravens wide re­ceivers “jell per­fectly,” ac­cept their roles and root for one another.

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