Word to the wise when talking to Steve Smith Sr.: Don't doubt Kamar Aiken's ability to be a starting wide receiver this season.
"You take your shirt off and your tie, and you come out there and be in press coverage against Kamar and see how that works out for you," Smith tersely told a reporter Wednesday.
With rookie first-round pick Breshad Perriman still sidelined by a knee injury, Aiken is in line to start Sunday's season opener against the Denver Broncos. It will be the first start of Aiken's three-year career.
Aiken may have been the starter even if Perriman hadn't been hurt. Aiken is listed at the top of the depth chart at the starting position opposite Smith.
It's a giant jump for a player that was a journeyman who had been a part of 15 transactions in two years before he landed on the Ravens practice squad on Oct. 30, 2013. He had bounced between the Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears and New England Patriots.
Aiken was on the roster bubble last year and made it, in large part because of his special teams work. He then proved himself on offense by making plays in big situations. By the end of the season, he became a trusted target and scored a touchdown in the divisional playoffs against New England.
Aiken entered this summer without much need to worry about his job. He was running with the first-team offense from the beginning and he's done nothing to dissuade the Ravens from their belief that he can handle it.
He made plays in Organized Team Activities (OTAs). He made plays in minicamp. He made plays in training camp. He made plays in the preseason.
Asked whether he envisioned Aiken as one of his starting receivers when this season's practices began, quarterback Joe Flacco said, "Yes, no doubt."
"I fully expected it and it's not surprising," Flacco said.
"Kamar just continues to play solid football," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "That's his M.O. He has become a very consistent football player. He's very reliable, he's tough, he blocks, and he makes catches – makes catches when he's contested – runs good routes."
Smith, a 15-year veteran with Hall of Fame stats, was asked about the "unproven" receivers around him. Smith immediately jumped to Aiken's defense.
"We roll with the guys we have; we're comfortable in that," Smith said. "Obviously, they may not be proven in stats, but also, you're not out here every day watching these guys work – work their [butt] off – and see what they do. It is no overnight success. They've been grinding for a while.
"I've seen a guy [Aiken] – undrafted guy – who has considerably never been good enough to be anywhere, but yet, he consistently is on teams. … I see a guy who's very capable of making plays and will do that on Sunday and other games to come."
Aiken made 24 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns last season, despite limited opportunities. It impressed his coaches and teammates, but hardly caught the attention of those outside of Baltimore.
Aiken was rated as the Ravens' least tough player by the EA Sports video game, Madden 15, yet when he was pile driven onto his head by Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson in the third preseason game, Aiken still popped up and recovered his own near fumble.
The video game also gave Aiken dreads, even though he's never had that hair style in his life. How many other NFL starting wide receivers have the wrong haircut?
Aiken isn't the burner that Perriman is. That doesn't, however, dissuade Aiken from feeling like he can make deep plays.
There's not much that Aiken doesn't think he can accomplish. After all, his path to becoming a starter has already proven so much. How did he do it?
"Chipping away, keeping that same mindset and taking it day by day," Aiken said. "Never looking too far ahead and always believing in myself and never giving up on myself."
Aiken wasn't in the frame of mind to reminisce and appreciate how far he's come. He said he'll wait until next offseason's family vacation to do that. Right now, he's focused on Denver.
"I've been waiting for a long time, but I'm just going to go out there, make plays, compete* *and do what I know what I can do," Aiken said.
"I expect more out of myself than I think some of the coaches probably do, and that's fine. But I hold myself to a higher standard and I expect myself to go out there and make plays with the best of them. That's how I go into this game thinking."