There are always specific games when a rookie has to grow up, and grow up quickly. That game is going to be this Thursday for rookie tight ends Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle.
Just four weeks into your NFL career, here comes Pittsburgh, rooks.
With leading tight end Crockett Gillmore sidelined by a calf injury Monday and Tuesday, it looks like Williams and Boyle will be thrust into the Thursday Night Football spotlight. And the Ravens are confident they can handle it.
"These two guys are not two guys that it's too big for," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Both of these guys, they love being out there, and they just want to make plays. They're tough, competitive, they're physical. They kind of remind me of Crockett a year ago."
Gillmore has been one of quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite weapons so far this season. He's caught 10 passes on 13 targets for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He's second on the team in receiving yards behind Steve Smith Sr.
The Ravens haven't asked a ton of the two rookie tight ends behind him. Williams had just two catches for 23 yards in the first two weeks and Boyle didn't make his first catch until Week 3. They each got more of a trial by fire Sunday when Gillmore went down.
Williams stepped in and caught three passes for 44 yards on seven targets (tied for second most catches on the team). Boyle had two snags on two targets for 19 yards.
"I thought they both played really well. I thought they both did a really good job," Harbaugh said.
Their performances can't be summarized just by the stats.
Williams, the second-round pick out of Minnesota, continues to show his hustle, including an all-out Superman diving attempt on a final fourth-down heave by Flacco that went incomplete. He has picked up his assignments well and is constantly growing.
Boyle, a fifth-round pick out of Delaware, is showing he's a handful at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. His first two NFL receptions included a hurdle over Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, then a stiff-arm body slam on Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones.
"I couldn't even picture what my first NFL reception would be," Boyle said. "I guess it's pretty cool. It was kind of reactionary."
Transferring that success to a game in Pittsburgh is no small challenge. Quarterback Joe Flacco said they need to "play within themselves" and not let the moment overwhelm them.
"They just have to catch the ball, run block – do the simple things," Flacco said.
Williams is trying to take a level-headed approach to the situation. As one of the youngest players in the league this year, he said he's been leaning on his father and former NFL player Brian Williams' advice and taken it one day at a time working hard to earn his place.
"It's just taking the opportunity and trying to make the best of it," Williams said.
"It's just another game. You can't go in like, 'Oh, it's Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh!' Every game is loud on the road. It's the NFL; everyone is a great team. Really, I prepare the same. You've got to play your best and play sound, technique football."
Boyle said he's expecting an "eye-opening experience," just like his first NFL game in Denver. But at this point, entering just his fourth NFL game, just about everything is new.
"It's all exciting," Boyle said. "For Maxx and I to step in, that's what we're here to do. It's whatever the team needs us to do, we're going to do it."
Ravens Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman has high expectations for the duo. Like Harbaugh, he said he's been very impressed with their overall maturity and professional attitude. They know their assignments and they correct mistakes quickly.
"We really love coaching them. They're going to develop and be good players for us," Trestman said. "We expect them to step up and play well for us."