Asked about playing against Joe Flacco on Sunday, Kyle Hamilton offered perspective on just how young he is.
"I know he played here, obviously," said the first-round safety who will make his regular-season debut for the Ravens. "I was 11 when they won the Super Bowl (in) 2012. That was a while ago. I was actually 10, turning 11. That's pretty much all I remember.
"It probably won't be as emotional for me as for some off these guys who were on that team like Tuck (Justin Tucker) and Josh Bynes. But we have a great game plan for him. I understand he's very talented. We'll just try to give him different stuff and execute."
Seeing Flacco in a Jets uniform won't faze Hamilton, but anticipating his first NFL game is giving him butterflies. As the first safety (14th overall) taken in this year's draft, Hamilton's versatility is an X-factor for Baltimore's defense this season, because it remains to be seen how many snaps he'll play, and how he'll be utilized in Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald's scheme.
Veteran safety Chuck Clark had arguably the strongest training camp of his career and joins free agent acquisition Marcus Williams as the starting safeties on the depth chart. But Hamilton gives the Ravens the option of using more three-safety looks, a superb athlete with the potential to become a dynamic player.
Hamilton played multiple roles for Notre Dame's defense – a hard-hitting safety who could torpedo running backs, a rangy pass defender who could shadow tight ends and big wide receivers, a centerfielder who roamed sideline to sideline to break up passes.
Hamilton has experienced ups and downs since reporting for rookie minicamp, but that's part of the learning process. Heading into Week 1, he's feeling more comfortable in Macdonald's system.
"It's been slowing down for me recently," Hamilton said. "At the beginning of rookie minicamp, I remember (Head) Coach (John) Harbaugh saying something along the lines of, 'The days are long but the years are short.' Looking back on it, it's gone by super-fast. We're already at the season, already in Week 1. It's come pretty fast and I'm just excited to be a part of it."
The Ravens won't tip their game plan for Sunday, but early in the preseason Harbaugh affirmed that Hamilton has already learned quickly enough to be used in multiple ways.
"He's going to be very versatile," Harbaugh said. "He's going to play in a lot of different spots."
Kyle Brandt of NFL Network predicted Hamilton will win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Williams has more experience than Hamilton, but he's also in his first season as a key part of Baltimore's secondary. Williams can relate to what Hamilton is going through, coming to a new team and trying to play fast without overthinking. Williams and Clark have been helping Hamilton and can see his progress.
"He's doing a great job," Williams said. "He puts a lot of work in the film room, he comes out here, he competes. He does all the things that you want out of a rookie. He's not playing like a rookie right now, he's playing like he's been here and doing it, and that's very impressive."
Hamilton said his comfort level has also been helped by Clark's leadership in the secondary. Flacco is an experienced quarterback who knows how to take advantage of coverage mistakes, but Hamilton is confident the secondary will be on the same page.
"I think we're a defense that communicates at all three levels, 11 guys playing as one," Hamilton said. "That starts with everybody communicating on the same page. Chuck starts it off, green dot. Everybody gets the call and relays it, then we just go play fast, play hard. We grind so hard during the week and understand the game plan so much that once we get the call and understand what's in front of you, you just play football."
There are moments off the field when Hamilton still thinks about being a rookie. He noticed when his nameplate was placed over his locker at the Under Armour Performance Center, another sign that he was truly a Raven. But on Sunday he hopes to be play like a veteran, savvy enough to make a few plays that help Baltimore to a victory.
"Everybody's been saying it's a big game, first NFL game, but the field's still 100 yards, still 53 yards wide," Hamilton said. "It's the culmination of all the football I've played up to this point now. I'm actually in the NFL and it feels like I was just playing Little League.
"Playing the Jets, on Sunday, on 9-11, which is a very important day in our country, is going to be an exciting opportunity. I'm just ready to go."