Since returning to practice Aug. 9, Rashod Bateman has been running crisp routes, making sharp cuts, feeling ready to make an impact this fall.
It's hard to measure how badly Bateman wants to have a healthy season with the Ravens. People can have empathy for how hard he has worked to return from Lisfranc foot surgery, but only he can understand exactly what he's been through.
Bateman knows he can shake defenders if he can just shake injuries. But after missing five games as a rookie due to groin surgery and 11 games last year with his foot injury, Bateman simply wants to be healthy enough to show his full talent.
"It felt good to get back out there with the guys," Bateman said. "It's been tough. It's been a battle, but I'm happy to be here. I'm blessed to be a part of this organization. My teammates have had my back the whole time, so [I'm] very thankful for them, and I guess we'll see what this year holds."
Bateman was the 27th-overall pick in 2021 and despite his injuries he's averaging 13.1 yards per catch over two seasons (61 catches, 800 yards, three touchdowns), showing flashes of his potential. His ability to make a huge play at any time was evident in Week 2 last season, when Bateman took a short slant from Lamar Jackson and turned on the jets for a 75-yard touchdown against Miami.
That's what Bateman can do when he's healthy, and that's how he finally feels after months of rehab.
"It feels good. I feel strong – better than I was during OTAs," Bateman said. "I'm making good progress so far.
"My teammates still believe in me. They know my capabilities. They know what I can do. I've done it before. I do it in practice. It just sucks that the injuries have been in the way – in the way for me to prove it to you all and to everybody else. Hopefully third time is the charm in Charm City, so we'll see."
The Ravens are thrilled to have added Odell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers and Nelson Agholor to their wide receiver group, but a healthy Bateman would bring even more explosiveness to the mix. Beckham is seven years older than the 23-year-old Bateman and can give his younger teammate advice on how to handle adversity, injuries and expectations.
Any offensive package that includes Beckham, Bateman, Flowers in combo with Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews has the potential to give opponents nightmares. When asked what he thinks of new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken's system, Bateman smiled and said, "I love it."
"I'm happy with the new pieces we added," Bateman said. "Odell and Zay are both incredible receivers. We all bring different things to the table. New Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken is using us very well right now, so I'm definitely excited to see what we can do Week 1 and the rest of the season."
Dealing with injuries over the past two seasons hasn't been easy for Bateman, and there were times when his frustrations boiled over. Bateman wants to move forward and says he has learned some valuable lessons as he has dealt with setbacks.
"I would say it changed me a lot," Bateman said. "I had never been through anything like this before. [I've] never been hurt, especially two years in a row. [I] had some off the field, personal issues, too, but it's been fine. I'm here. I'm excited. I'm ready to go.
"I love Baltimore. I love everything about it. I love my teammates – the chemistry. I love my coaches – position coaches. I love everything about it. I'm in the NFL. I'm blessed. I'm playing my dream. Everything's not going to be perfect. I'm not going to be perfect. The coaches aren't going to be perfect. We're going to have our battles, but at the end of the day, as long as you can communicate, talk it out, make sure everybody's on the same page, then it'll all work out."
Head Coach John Harbaugh is happy to see Bateman able to stack practice days and work on his craft. The start of the regular season is less than three weeks away, and the time Bateman missed makes each day more important.
"There's some emotional roller coasters through that whole process," Harbaugh said. "Only an individual can deal with that himself. You can't do anything for him in that way. But he kept fighting. He kept working. He looks really good out there, and I'm expecting him to have a really great season."
Asked how close he felt to being 100%, Bateman said "99%," which is a good number. As for statistics, Bateman isn't worried about trying to reach 1,000 yards receiving, or a certain number of catches or touches. The Ravens have a lot of weapons and only one ball. If he's on the field, Bateman believes the numbers will come.
"I just want to be there when everybody gets their (Super Bowl) ring," Bateman said. "I don't really care who gets the catches and touches. I just want to be part of something big."