Willie Snead sure looked like a quick study during Baltimore's offseason practices.
The fourth-year receiver, who the Ravens signed away from the New Orleans Saints as a restricted free agent, was a popular target for quarterback Joe Flacco during Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamp.
He caught just about everything thrown his way and may have very well led the team in receptions during the spring practices.
"He has a knack for seeing the game the way the quarterback does, and he makes his decisions quick, and he gets into open spots quickly," Flacco said during last week's minicamp. "I think that's a wakeup to me when I'm standing back in the pocket, that, man, he's going to be ready and he's going to make the right decisions so I can anticipate and I can be confident to put this ball on him, because he's going to make the right decisions."
Building a rhythm into the passing game was perhaps the top priority for the Ravens this offseason. The offense struggled in that area last year, and the Ravens responded by re-making the receiver room this offseason.
Getting Flacco on the same page with his new targets – Snead, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews – was a pivotal component of OTAs and minicamp. Flacco drew rave reviews for how he performed this spring, and the connection with Snead was a big reason for that.
"Getting to know Joe and the type of guy he is, he's looking for somebody, he's always looking down the field, and I pride myself on trying to get open and giving myself a big target for him," Snead said. "That's just part of my game, is just try to be quarterback-friendly and just try to be in his mind and see what he's seeing and try to be on the same page with him."
The Ravens brought in Snead to give them a proven target in the middle of the field. They didn't have a clear slot receiver after Michael Campanaro left in free agency, and Snead has thrived as a slot receiver in his short career.
Flacco has been at his best in his career when he has a reliable target who he can trust to move the chains over the middle of the field, and Snead has the makings of that kind of addition.
"When you have a veteran guy like that, that's worked the slot, he understands how to set guys up, he understands the timing of say a 'choice route,'" Wide Receivers Coach Bobby Engram said. "He's seen reading a defense's leverage, and I think for a quarterback, Willie is easy to read, like his body language. So, I think him and Joe have struck up a good rapport."
Snead came to Baltimore motivated to get his career back on track after a disappointing 2017 season. He caught just eight passes last year, compared to 141 over the previous two seasons.
He and Flacco still have work to do, and they both said they plan to get together again on their own before training camp to continue building their timing and chemistry.
"When you need a big play on third or fourth down and you're looking for a guy, you know exactly what he's going to do, because you put that timing [in]," Snead said. "It was big for us in New Orleans, and I know it will be big for us here. So, when we get together, I know it will be good and it will be very beneficial for us going forward."