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Tandon Doss Could Be Third-Down Answer


There's an art, or maybe a science, to the first down. It's making the tough catches, knowing where the chains are, and being able to take punishment along the way.

Departed wide receiver Anquan Boldin and lost tight end Dennis Pitta were two of the Ravens' masters at it last year. They were the chain-moving crew.

Now that job may fall to wide receiver Tandon Doss, a player who's unproven in that regard but may be increasingly thrust into that role.

"Third down," Doss said, "I might take responsibility on shorter and intermediate routes, and getting to the sticks and stuff."

Boldin led last year's Ravens with 45 first-down receptions. They made up 69 percent of his total catches. Pitta had the third most with 22, behind wide receiver Torrey Smith.

Both Boldin and Pitta are big, physical, sure-handed pass catchers. They were perhaps the two most reliable targets for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Doss is trying to become the same.

He has good size at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. He has flashed one of the best sets of hands on the team, even though he had a couple drops in last year's playoffs and has had a few more thus far in training camp. Perhaps best of all, he's spent the past two years learning how to play Boldin's position.

Doss said Boldin's trade to San Francisco impacts him more than Pitta's season-ending injury will.

"Anquan leaving is more for me," Doss said. "The way he played physical, going across the middle and reading the defense on the run, that's on me."

Doss has struggled with injuries and has had Boldin blocking his way to the playing field. Doss only has seven receptions for 123 yards so far in his young career – all coming last year. However, of those seven catches, six were for first downs.

During the past two years, the fourth-round pick out of Indiana has seen his draft-mate Smith, a second-round pick, emerge as the Ravens' top receiver and pile up stats and acclaim along the way.

"I came in, and in the preseason I felt like I was right there with [Smith]," Doss said. "Unfortunately things didn't work out the same. Torrey has been a monster. He's grown so much in his last two years that it's amazing. I'm looking to get there now."

There's also a confidence issue. At Indiana, Doss had 77 receptions for 962 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. He followed that up with 63 catches for 706 yards and seven scores as a senior, despite a torn groin.

"It's rough. You go from being the man on your team in college to playing for the scout team," Doss said. "It gets on your ego and it tears your pride.

"I've got to get back in that zone I was in when I was in college. It's going out there and having fun and feeling like nobody on the field could touch me. You have to have that mentality when you come out here. You can be thinking too much about everything. You have to just do your thing."

Doss said he's more confident in knowing the Ravens' plays and has a wider understanding of the Ravens offense.

He knows not just his routes,* *but all the concepts of the play. A key requirement of his slot position is being able to read what the defense gives him, unlike outside receivers who are often simply battling a cornerback.

Doss said he's still getting used to the speed of playing inside, and has sometimes also shifted outside.

He's had an up-and-down camp so far. At times, he's made highlight-reel catches, including elevating over a couple defenders to haul in a tough snag in camp's first practice. Flacco found him for a touchdown on the same two-minute drive.

But Doss has also made more easy drops than he would like, and he said he and Flacco need to iron out some communication issues. That will happen with more reps, which he's getting a lot of these days. He already feels a lot better than in years past, and has impressed his head coach.

"Tandon, to me, has looked good," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He made a number of nice plays down here in the competitive third-down period at the end.

"He had a lot of balls thrown to him, so there were a couple in there – I remember a couple drops – but I sure remember a lot of catches. He looks fast to me. He looks more explosive than he's probably ever looked before."

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