One has been the talk of training camp with his acrobatic catches. Another towers over Ravens defensive backs in practice. One literally turned heads with his speed during spring workouts. And another is just trying to stay healthy long enough to work consistently with quarterback Joe Flacco.
Two weeks from today, the Ravens make their final cuts to whittle their roster to 53 players. One of their toughest decisions will be deciding which wide receivers to carry into the regular season. Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are considered to be locks.
But for the final two or three wide receiver spots, they have a versatile group of youngsters to choose from, including LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter, Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss. The Ravens will weigh potential against preseason production while comparing how the unique skill set of each player will fit into the offense. Special teams prowess is also a significant factor.
"You try to factor all that stuff in," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Of course, special teams is a big part of that, what type of receiver you are looking for, what role they might play for you right now. You just try to do the best you can with that and take all the information, practice and games, and make the best choice you can. It's tough, because we have some good players."
Throughout training camp, Williams has been the most impressive of the wide receivers competing for the final spots , often standing out with his leaping grabs, many ending with two feet in the end zone. Thompson has outperformed fellow rookie Streeter, but Streeter has started to make his presence felt. Doss is playing catch-up, too, after a hamstring injury limited him early in camp.
But the best opportunities for the roster hopefuls at wide receiver — which include Devin Goda, Dorian Graham, Logan Payne and Patrick Williams — to distinguish themselves will come in their preseason games. Tonight they will have their chance against the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium in the second preseason game for the Ravens.
"These practices are really important. I think those guys are making huge strides," Flacco said before the Ravens beat the Atlanta Falcons in their preseason opener. "Having said that, I think [preseason games will] be a big thing for their confidence and our confidence as a unit."
Williams, 24, who surprisingly made the 53-man roster as a rookie free agent out of Maryland, was active for 16 games in 2011 and caught four passes for 46 yards. Williams was a major contributor on special teams, making four tackles during the regular season and forcing a key fumble in the AFC championship game.
That experience propelled Williams into a strong offseason in which his receiving skills have garnered him attention. Though he isn't particularly fast or fully polished, he is well-rounded and is adept at twisting his 6 -foot frame or using it to shield defenders while grabbing passes.
But ask Williams about the possibility of an expanded role, and his humility shows up on tape.
"I feel like [special teams is] the biggest thing as far as me making the team," Williams said. "The role as a receiver is going to play itself out."
Williams realizes that special teams was the primary reason why he was active on game days last year while Doss, a 2011 fourth-round pick, suited up just six times.
Doss was often in shorts and a T-shirt during the first two weeks of camp, but he returned to practice Monday. Doss, who was praised for his toughness at Indiana, was frustrated by the hamstring injury.
But he learned from watching Boldin from the sidelines, which is significant because he might be asked to fill a similar role in the future. Doss, 22, is most comfortable in the slot, which is where he often lined up in practice this week, and he projects as more of a possession receiver.
"I'm a little bit bigger," said Doss, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds. "Everybody talks about my hands. It's about being able to catch the ball, make plays and move the chains."
Williams and Doss are being pressed by two fleet-footed rookies in Thompson and Streeter.
Thompson, 23, who attended Florida, produced several big plays during offseason workouts. He caught the eye of Flacco, who had to ask one of the coaches who No. 83 was. Thompson hasn't been as wide-open during in training camp, but he hauled in three passes for 53 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Falcons. He also drew a 48-yard penalty for pass interference.
Streeter, 22, a sixth-round pick in April's draft, appears to be trailing Thompson, an undrafted free agent, in the competition. But the 6-foot-5 wideout, who ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, has a rare blend of size and straight-line speed. Ravens quarterbacks have also thrown him several jump balls in the red zone, a dimension the offense has lacked.
One of the knocks on Streeter coming out of Miami was that he was too raw to play right away.
"If I thought of myself as a project player, I'd still be in college right now," said Streeter, who had two catches for 12 yards against the Falcons.
The Ravens like what all four youngsters bring to the mix, but there probably won't be room for all of them on the roster. After keeping just four wide receivers during final cuts in 2009, they kept six the past two years. This year, they might try to stash one or two on the practice squad.
But, as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said, the best players will be kept on the roster.
"I'm confident that we have a really good group of receivers on this offense," Cameron said. "How many? We are probably going to have more than maybe we can keep. So, we'll see."
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