When the Ravens signed Owen Daniels this summer, he was intended to be a complement to Dennis Pitta and an excellent teacher.
Daniels has followed through in one of those departments. He's surpassed in the other.
With Pitta going down with a season-ending hip injury, Daniels has become the team's top tight end. But he's done more than just move up the depth chart.
Daniels caught a team-high six passes for 58 yards and a touchdown Sunday against Atlanta. He was targeted nine times. No other Ravens receiver had more than five targets.
Daniels has become a very productive and essential part of the offense. He's second on the team in receptions (27), and just three targets shy of Torrey Smith with 37.
"We didn't expect [Daniels] maybe to be this much in the forefront, and yet he has handled it tremendously well," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He has had a great season. He blocks, he makes big catches. Just can't say enough about Owen."
Daniels is a few weeks away from turning 32. He's coming off* *an injury-shortened season in which he played just five games. He sat out a couple weeks and three preseason games because of leg fatigue.
But all along, Daniels thought he would still provide a lot this season. And he didn't blink when Pitta was sidelined in Week 3.
"I'm no stranger to that [lead] role," Daniels said. "Obviously it's not what I expected coming in, but even though I didn't expect it, I still wanted it. I still wanted those looks and to be a big part of what we're doing."
Daniels' day started with a 5-yard touchdown. The veteran found a soft spot between three Falcons players in zone coverage and held on tight as he was whacked immediately after making the catch.
He made three catches on the Ravens' second touchdown drive, coming in the second quarter. The first was for 19 yards when he juggled it and hung on just in time. Then it was a 12-yarder and 9-yarder despite more hard hits in the back.
Daniels said the Ravens knew the Falcons liked to play a lot of man coverage, especially on third down. The Ravens were confident that Daniels could get open in those situations.
Baltimore struggled against man coverage for much of last year, but Daniels has helped alleviate that problem.
"[When] he gets one-on-one or running across the field, he's a nice, big target," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's a good player. He gets himself open. He gets leverage on guys. He knows when to sit in holes, so you can trust when he is doing something that you can put the ball on, and nobody is going to undercut him, or anything like that. And he makes catches in traffic. He obviously has held onto the ball a lot of times while getting hit by two guys, even one in the end zone today.
"So yes, I have a lot of confidence throwing to him."
Daniels has noticed the same confidence. And he credits the Ravens wide receivers with helping develop that rapport between he and Flacco.
"We've got such talented guys on the outside. They gotta pay a lot of attention to them," Daniels said. "A lot of times I'll be matched up in man coverage, whether it's a linebacker or safety, and Joe's gaining confidence in me that way to make plays and convert."