For Shemar Bridges, pursuing a roster spot with the Ravens runs in the family.
His stepfather, Damian Swain, is a former Canadian Football League wide receiver who was invited to the Ravens training camp in 2001. Swain didn't make the team and he never played in the NFL.
However, Bridges' training camp story with the Ravens could become the start of something special. He was a star in Thursday night's 23-10 victory over the Titans with four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, including two acrobatic grabs that displayed his potential to be a playmaker in Baltimore's offense.
Listed at 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, Bridges is a big-bodied wide receiver who clearly knows how to use his size. On both his 38-yard catch in the second quarter and his 14-yard touchdown catch, Bridges used his wingspan and leaping ability to create a mismatch.
He's a different kind of receiver than Baltimore's top three wideouts. Rashod Bateman is 6-foot-1, and Devin Duvernay and James Proche II are both 5-11. Another big target for Lamar Jackson could add more diversity to Baltimore's attack, and Bridges is making a case to make the 53-man roster as a fourth or fifth receiver who can also play special teams.
"I like Shemar," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He's a big, physical guy. He goes up and gets the ball. He posts a lot of good speeds in practice. He plays hard on special teams."
It would be a feel-good story for Bridges to make the Ravens' roster, after his stepfather's attempt 21 years ago. The two men trained together this offseason as Swain tried to ready Bridges for the challenge. Swain was in attendance Thursday to see Bridges' big game live.
"He trained me and taught me everything I'm going through right now, because he went through it," Bridges said. "Everything he did, I'm going through 21 years later. He's prepared me for this moment. He's in my corner."
As an undrafted prospect from Fort Valley State, Bridges is opening eyes and making every opportunity count. He wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in February like Alabama product Slade Bolden, another undrafted rookie who is battling for a Ravens roster spot.
Bridges began his college career at Tusculum (Tenn.) University before transferring to Fort Valley State, an HBCU in Georgia. A native of Jacksonville, Bridges was a zero-star recruit (a self-described late bloomer) and has already overcome long odds to make it this far. After playing just four games for Fort Valley State last season, scouts didn't have a large body of game film to review.
"Last year, I just had got banged up and stuff," Bridges said. "Then towards the end of my senior year, I just kind of played it safe going into the draft. Then the year before was COVID, so we only played in two spring games. My junior year, I played in all the games – I was healthy.
"Baltimore was definitely a team that was really aggressive on me coming out of the draft. They just felt like it was a great fit for me [and] a good opportunity. I felt like it was a good situation. I met one of the scouts who really helped me get here at an HBCU Bowl. I thought it was a great situation and I love it here."
There is clearly potential for Bridges to improve as he gains more experience. He has been making plays consistently in practice, and his ability and willingness to play special teams is a plus. Bridges and rookie tight end Isaiah Likely have been roommates during camp, pushing each other to excel. The friendship has been good for them and Likely has also enjoyed an impressive camp.
"I talk to Shemar every night," Likely said. "We're just really focused on the playbook together. We'll pick apart each other's brains. If we're struggling at night with a play, I'll try to help him, and he'll try to help me."
Bridges knows his roster spot is still not secure, but he's rising to the occasion and making coaches and teammates notice. His preseason debut was a performance his stepfather could be proud of. But Bridges hopes his best NFL experiences are yet to come.
"I wanted to just come in this game and just show that I can play big and do it on a consistent level," Bridges said. "I feel like I did alright with that. I got a lot more work to put in. Just got to stay humble and keep going."