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Nick Boyle Is Emerging From Injury-Riddled Tight End Group


The Ravens opened organized team activities with tight end being perhaps their deepest position group.

The question then was: How are the Ravens going to keep all these guys?

Fast forward to nearly a week into training camp and three of the original six have gone down to injury or suspension.

Last year's starter, Dennis Pitta, suffered a possibly career-ending third major hip injury during organized team activities. Darren Waller was suspended for at least a year for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Crockett Gillmore suffered a season-ending knee injury two days into training camp.

So where does that leave the Ravens?

"We are very talented there," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. "We have guys I like that are practicing hard. I'm excited about the tight end group."

Now, the Ravens' five tight ends are Nick Boyle, Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams, newly-signed Larry Donnell and Ryan Malleck.

Each has his own story at this point, and Boyle is the leader of the pack for now.

"Nick has played well – very steady, very good run and pass," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I'm happy with Nick."

Entering his third season, Boyle is a big, physical bruiser who can also surprise with how smooth he is as a receiver. A fifth-round pick out of Delaware, Boyle stands in at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds. That's one inch taller and five pounds heavier than outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. In other words, Boyle will be an even tougher assignment for defenders once there's full contact.

Boyle flashed with 18 catches for 153 yards and some rugged blocking as a rookie. Last year, he was suspended for the season's first 10 games (performance enhancing drugs), and returned to make six catches for 44 yards.

This year, Boyle should see a lot more reps. He's been practicing with the first-team offense throughout the entire offseason.

"It's awesome," Boyle said. "I think I am a rep guy. I think I do better with the more reps I get. … Lately, I have been leaving practice and there is that one play at practice that I want to take back. It kind of keeps you unsatisfied and keeps you hungry to come out the next day and do better."

Last year, Pitta led all NFL tight ends with 86 catches, and posted 729 yards and two touchdowns. Gillmore and Waller produced less than 100 receiving yards last year. The Ravens have been yearning for a dual-tight end offense, and Boyle will be a big part of that this season.

"I don't know about 'pressure to fill a void' because I think we have a bunch of great players in the room," Boyle said. "It's an unfortunate situation for them, but we come in and it gives us opportunities to go out there on the field and do good things."

Harbaugh said Williams has made "really big steps" in his quest to become the first NFL player to ever play after his rare knee surgery.

Watson could be the pass-catching tight end the Ravens need. The 36-year-old veteran, who is entering his 14th season, posted 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.

Watson continues to work his way back into peak shape after the Achilles surgery. He looks to be moving well on the field, but he says he still has a way to go. Watson said he doesn't have a plan for how much preseason game action he'll see. He first returned to the field on a limited basis in mandatory minicamp.

Watson said there's "definitely a learning curve" after sitting out for a year. He's working on his explosion, balance and strength, especially in his calf muscles.

"You know, I have the 'baby calf' now. I take care of it dearly," Watson joked. "There's going to be some kind of new normal but it'll get better, I believe, as time goes on. I don't think I've reached the ceiling of where my rehab is going to be."

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