Ravens tight ends look to overcome injuries, suspension
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked during the offseason how the team was going to be able to keep all of their talented tight ends on the final roster.
The picture became clearer when a pair of potential starters went down with season-ending injuries and a young up-and-comer was hit with a yearlong suspension. General manager Ozzie Newsome is now looking exceptionally wise by adding depth to that position.
The additions included Benjamin Watson and Nick Boyle. Now instead of battling for playing time, the duo has been thrust into a major role.
Harbaugh is confident the much thinner group of tight ends can still be dominant this season.
''We are very talented there. We have guys I like that are practicing hard. I am excited about the tight end group,'' Harbaugh said. ''We were very deep going in. There were articles written about, `How can you keep all these guys?' Ozzie said it at one of the big press conferences: You just can't have enough depth. Boy, that has proven to be true at that position.''
The Ravens signed Watson as a free agent last year to help bolster their offense. Watson, however, suffered a torn Achilles in a preseason game against the Lions and didn't play another snap in 2016. He is making his way back and expected to help fill the void left by Dennis Pitta, who suffered a career-ending hip injury in OTAs.
Watson has caught 434 passes for 4,963 yards with 38 touchdowns over 12 seasons. Now at age 36, the Ravens hope he can make an impact this season.
''Injuries are always a part of football,'' Watson said. ''You know that on any level, there's always going to be injuries. It always seems like your situation is the worst when you're in it. I swear, every training camp I'm like, `Man, we have a lot of injuries,' and we, in fact, do. That being said, that's why it is a team game. It's incumbent upon other players to step in and play.''
Boyle, who has been suspended twice for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances, is taking advantage of the extra snaps in practice. His playing time will likely increase, especially since Crockett Gillmore, a projected starter, went down with a season-ending knee injury last week.
Darren Waller, a sixth-round pick in 2015, is suspended without pay for one year for also violating the NFL's substance abuse policy for the second time. Boyle appreciates the extra work, just not at the expense of his teammates.
''It is tough, and being a tight end, we get so close with everybody in the (meeting) room,'' Boyle said. ''First, seeing Dennis and then seeing Crockett, it is extremely unfortunate. I feel really bad for those guys, especially when they come back from all the injuries they had the past. It is really tough to deal with. You reach out to them, you give them the best, and you go from there.''
Maxx Williams, a second-round selection in the 2015 draft, has been hampered with injuries throughout his young career. Williams was placed on injured reserve after just four games last season with a knee injury and underwent surgery.
So far, Williams has looked solid in training camp and Harbaugh hopes he can be a consistent contributor.
''He has looked good,'' Harbaugh said. ''I think he has just to get the feel for moving and playing football. But, I have seen so much progress every single day - really big steps from the first day to how he looked today. He is on track.''
Baltimore also signed Larry Donnell on July 30 for depth. Donnell started six games for the New York Giants last season.
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