Once again, Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro is back on the field following an injury. Once again, he's got to prove he can stay there.
Campanaro returned from "strains" that knocked him out early in training camp and looked good in Monday morning's practice.
After missing three quarters of last season because of a back injury, Campanaro's comeback has been spotty. He missed Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamp because of a calf injury. He suffered a setback with "strains" near the start of training camp.
Now Campanaro is trying to break his body back in.
"I'm trying to prepare my body for the grind, for the long haul of the season, but at the same time not overdo things," he said following Monday's practice. "I feel great. I'm just working through some things."
Last week, Head Coach John Harbaugh said the final wide receiver spot will go to the player who makes the most plays. He pointed out that plays can't be made if players aren't on the field. Harbaugh said Campanaro is "one of my favorite guys" because of his work ethic, but that he needs to play.
On Monday, Campanaro said he definitely feels the pressure to practice.
"Dealing with so many injuries, you've definitely got to be out here," Campanaro said. "I know Coach Harbs has been disappointed I haven't been out here. The more I'm out here, the more I'm making plays … I've got a lot of plays to make up."
The injury bug has latched onto Campanaro throughout his young career. Entering his third season, he's played in just eight games.
That's not because the Ravens haven't had a use for him on the field. When he's been healthy, Campanaro has suited up on gameday. Hamstring, groin, back, calf and other soft-tissue issues have stood in the way.
"It's frustrating anytime you have an injury," Campanaro said. "Any time you go from not playing actual football and being out here every day in the grind – I was out for about 11 months – missing OTAs hurt, just breaking me in. I'm just working through some stuff, breaking me in."
On offense, the Ravens would like to employ Campanaro in their short, quick passing attack. Campanaro is tough to cover in the slot because of his quickness and strong route-running. Campanaro can play inside or outside, and is a versatile weapon.
"You saw a little bit of that in the Pittsburgh game last year, to be able to utilize him in specialty roles in screens and rounds and things like that," Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman said. "He does an excellent job in those areas as well."
Campanaro could also be the Ravens' solution at punt returner. He has returned five punts as a Raven, averaging 13.2 yard per return. He also returned three kickoffs last year for a robust 26.3 yard average.
Campanaro said that coaches have a lot of confidence in him as a punt returner. They're looking for somebody that will catch the ball and hold onto it, and that's something Campanaro hasn't had any issues with.
"I think they have the same confidence in me as they do in Lardarius [Webb] – catching the ball, making smart decisions and not doing anything stupid back there," Campanaro said.
"Punt return is my favorite play in football. I love returning punts, so I'm definitely looking forward to doing that."