OWINGS MILLS — Tandon Doss broke into the clear in a hurry, cutting sharply inside to create a spot by himself in the middle of the secondary.
What happened next at the Baltimore Ravens’ organized team activity this spring might have appeared to be routine from the wide receiver, but it wasn’t.
Doss has quickly built a reputation for having one of the best set of hands on the roster, cleanly hauling in the spiral from quarterback Joe Flacco. That wasn’t unexpected, though.
What was different from a year ago when he was an unproductive rookie is how Doss rapidly accelerated after the catch, aggressively picking up yards and leaving defensive backs trailing behind him.
The hesitation that was obvious in Doss’ game last year has vanished.
"Yes, I’m not worried about what I have to do," Doss said. "I’m a lot more confident than last year. I played a little bit slower then. Now, I know the offense more and I can play without worrying about what I have to do. I’m very confident now."
The Ravens drafted Doss in the fourth round last year partially on Flacco’s recommendation after he singled out the Indiana University standout when Ravens scouts asked him to offer his opinion on several college wide receivers.
Doss was only a year removed from surgery to repair a double sports hernia, and he wasn’t particularly explosive.
Doss could clearly catch the football well enough to get on the field, but struggled to separate from fast cornerbacks.
He became a fixture on the inactive list last season, appearing in only six games and catching no passes.
He wasn’t entirely 100 percent after playing hurt during his final season with the Hoosiers where he caught 63 passes for 706 yards and seven touchdowns. Two seasons ago before the sports hernia, Doss was named All-Big Ten Conference when he caught 77 passes for 962 yards and five touchdowns.
"I was a little restricted last year," said Doss, who caught 154 career passes in college for 1,854 yards and 13 touchdowns. "I’m not going to use that as an excuse for not playing, but I do feel a lot better now.
"There was a lot of scar tissue that had built up on both sides. It sucked not playing last year. I’m not going to lie. I did learn a lot playing behind the older guys. I was able to sit back and watch."
That role could change this fall provided that he gets and stays healthy.
Doss was sidelined with a relatively minor leg injury for the Ravens’ entire mandatory minicamp and during an organized team activity the week before. Prior to the leg injury, Doss appeared to have regained some speed.
"It’s not a big deal," Doss said. "They want to hold me out to make sure I don’t tweak anything before training camp. I’ll be ready for camp, no problem."
Although Doss isn’t challenging for a starting spot, he is competing for the third receiver role behind starters Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
Doss is vying for playing time among a crowd that includes speedster Jacoby Jones, a return specialist signed to a two-year, $7 million contract, and former University of Maryland wide receiver LaQuan Williams.
"You’ve seen Tandon Doss," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "He has basically made every play. He has had a great offseason so far."
At 6-foot-2, Doss has bulked up to 212 pounds for roughly a 10-pound gain since last year.
Most of the additional size appears to be in his upper body.
"He wasn’t able to beat anybody out, but Tandon is going to be a really good player," coach John Harbaugh said. "We’re counting on him to be a big factor this year."
That’s what the Indianapolis native was at Indiana.
Doss piled up 1,549 kickoff return yards, 3,786 all-purpose yards and became the sixth player in Big Ten Conference history with 1,000 or more kickoff return yards in a season.
He ranks sixth on the Hoosiers’ all-time list for receiving yards, fourth in receptions.
Doss once generated 221 receiving yards against Michigan, catching 15 passes in that game with 363 all-purpose yards.
Achieving success in the NFL is going to require Doss to prove he can consistently get open and do more than just catch the football.
"I can play inside and outside, be versatile," Doss said. "I’m known for my hands and being able to catch the ball on third down. That’s where they usually look for me to get that first down and move the chains."
Last year, the Ravens got practically no production from receivers not named Boldin or Smith.
While running back Ray Rice led the Ravens with 76 receptions, Boldin and Smith combined for 107 catches, 1,728 yards and 12 touchdowns.
However, the other wide receivers on the roster totaled a cumulative eight receptions for 120 yards and no scores.
So, training camp is shaping up as a proving ground for players like Doss.
"I’m definitely looking forward to being on the field this year," Doss said. "Training camp is where I need to earn that position. I’m going to try to set myself up and do what I need to do to get out there.
"I came here to play. I don’t want to sit behind anybody. We do have a very talented group. I want to be a starter. That’s my goal."
How many catches do you think Tandon Doss will have in 2012?