Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro knows he's at an early crossroads following his latest setback in a string of injuries.
"You see some guys that get hurt and are eventually out of the league," he said Monday. "You see other guys who get hurt early in their career and they end up playing long careers. I'm just hoping I'm one of those latter guys."
Campanaro suffered a herniated disc in Thursday night's game against the Steelers. It would normally be about a four-week injury, he says, but the Ravens needed the roster spot because of so many injuries at wide receiver and had to place him on injured reserve.
The injury happened in the fourth quarter when the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Campanaro caught a short pass and tried to power his way through Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake for extra yardage.
"[Marshal] Yanda helped me up and said, 'Hell yeah, Camp!'" Campanaro recalled. "I couldn't really move or breathe. I got to the sideline and I just told our trainer I couldn't move my back or walk. I thought I broke my back at first."
After heading to the locker room, X-rays revealed the herniated disc, which isn't bulging or hitting a nerve, Campanaro said. It's continued a pattern of injuries for the 2014 seventh-round pick out of nearby River Hill High School.
Last season, Campanaro suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for seven games. This offseason, he again had issues with his hamstring during Organized Team Activities, then was shelved by a soft-tissue issue in training camp.
Part of the problem with the hamstring problems was Campanaro's training regiment, but he worked through that at the later part of the summer. The back injury was just a "freak injury" that could have happened on any hit, Campanaro said.
"There are certain injuries I think I can eliminate – the soft-tissue ones," he said. "This type of [back] injury comes with the game. It's just preparing myself and preparing my body that I'll be able to last over time."
The frustrating thing is that Campanaro has shown his potential during the short time he's been on the field.
In his first professional game against Tampa Bay last year, he notched an impressive leaping 19-yard touchdown. He caught a career-high four passes for 39 yards in the divisional playoffs in New England. On Thursday night, Campanaro scored another touchdown, this time by juking out Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats on a 9-yard end-around carry.
"The veterans all kind of tell me the same thing," Campanaro said. "'The only thing holding you back from being a big-time player on the team is you keep getting hurt.'"
Cornerback Lardarius Webb and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil were the teammates who have specifically told Campanaro that. His coaches have shared the same sentiment. That's at least some solace at a moment like this.
"Every time I get out there, I'm making plays," Campanaro said. "I know I belong on the field when I'm out there. It's definitely motivation going into next year for myself. Right now, my focus is on getting healthy and supporting the guys."
Campanaro was starting to look like one of the Ravens' top playmakers, alongside Steve Smith Sr. Now both of them are out with back injuries. Campanaro expressed confidence in Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and Darren Waller to step up without them.
He is also quite familiar with Chris Givens, the player the Ravens traded for to replace Campanaro. The two were together for three years at Wake Forest (2009-2011) and hung out together Sunday night and Monday morning.
"He came in and I asked him about one play and he already knew what it was, so he's definitely in the playbook," Campanaro said.
"I think he's going to be good for us. He's a competitor. I played with him for three years and he's a really good player. I'm excited to see he and Joe [Flacco] work together and have him work in our offense."