The battle for the fifth and sixth receiver spots is still not a done deal. Not by a long shot. Despite all of the momentum that Kamar Aiken has gained (especially following a strong preseason debut), he is still getting a stiff challenge from receivers Jeremy Butler and Deonte Thompson. And then there is rookie Michael Campanaro, who is definitely making the team – but where he stacks up in the pecking order is still a question.
Here’s a deeper look at how these four receivers performed:
Kamar Aiken: Let’s start with the leader of the pack. Aiken didn’t have a standout day, but he was simply workmanlike when he got his opportunities. He was especially good on inside slant routes. On two of the over-the-middle snags he made, he attacked the football. Aiken was able to cut right in front of the opposing DB and take ownership of the space. In that regard, Aiken has no fear of getting hit and is comfortable living in the middle of the field.
The other takeaway in watching Aiken is his movement at the line. Between using stutter steps and setting up the CB at the line, Aiken really works to get a free release.
Jeremy Butler: Butler really showed the full repertoire as a route runner today. He worked inside on slants, and outside on back-shoulder routes and comebacks. He displayed the power to dislodge the CB and get separation on a slant. And on sideline routes, he showed off his body control to maintain positioning. On one particular play, Butler was able to control a wide pass with his fingertips, plucking the ball away from fellow rookie Tramain Jacobs.
Despite where the ball was thrown (whether it was high or low), Butler adjusted. He made a nifty leaping catch to keep a ball from going over his head, displaying his large catch radius. The rookie consistently made impressive catches all over the field.
Deonte Thompson: Thompson had a quiet day today. He was not able to get open consistently and wasn’t targeted much at all. On the one play in which he was targeted (a deep route to the corner), he was able to split zone coverage but dropped a perfectly thrown Joe Flacco pass.
Michael Campanaro: The nifty slot receiver was consistently targeted on underneath routes and was highly active all day. He absolutely owned the short little drags and underneath crossing routes in the five-to-ten yard area.
Not only did Campanaro display sure hands, he continued to be electric as a route runner. During a one-on-one matchup against cornerback Tramain Jacobs, Campanaro ran such a biting double route that Jacobs was turned inside-out and committed a panic hold to keep the receiver from breaking wide open for a touchdown. His quickness coming in and out of his breaks is a completely different element than what the other receivers offer.
The Game Ball of the Day Goes To… Jeremy Butler. You could say Campanaro also deserves the game ball, but Butler really made a wider array of catches, and laid his body out for the ball.
• In more receiver news, Steve Smith made (by my count) four adjustments to poorly thrown passes. Even if he has to stretch his body to corral a ball that is thrown behind him, Smith makes the play.
• C.J. Mosley’s technique as a zone pass defender is something to behold, especially for a rookie. He uses his hands to press receivers at the line and really times his jump on the ball. A lot of veterans, let alone rookies, don’t have the timing or body control to stay physical yet coordinated in these coverage situations.
• Cornerback Sammy Seamster had a nice play in which he stole a pass away from Jacoby Jones in the back of the end zone. The rookie had better anticipation of the ball than Jones and high-pointed the ball perfectly.
• Rookie lineman John Urschel saw some snaps with the second team offense today.
• Every day that cornerback Dominique Franks is out there, he continues to assert himself. He had three more pass deflections today — one that led to an INT by Jeromy Miles. He is showing his veteran instincts to stay in the proper position downfield and locate the ball.