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Who steps up in Owen Daniels' absence?

10/24/2014

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The loss of tight end Owen Daniels couldn't have come at a more inopportune time.

 The Baltimore Ravens are playing for first place in the AFC North and are going against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that has been repeatedly beaten by tight ends.

Over the past three weeks, the Bengals have allowed tight ends to average 121 yards receiving and score four touchdowns. In the season opener, Daniels and Dennis Pitta combined for 14 catches for 117 yards against the Bengals.

So, with Daniels out at least one game, who steps up in his absence? Crockett Gillmore will become the third Ravens rookie to start a game on offense this season, but he doesn't come across as a player who wants to become the next Jimmy Graham.

"I'm going to do what I can in the pass game, but I know why I'm here, and I'm going to continue to block," Gillmore said earlier this week.

The Ravens seem to have more confidence in him in the passing game than Gillmore himself. After not getting a pass thrown his way for the first five games, Gillmore has caught all three passes thrown in his direction the past two weeks.

"He gets better every day as a receiver," coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s not the fastest guy in the world -- not to be confused with a speed merchant -- but he has good hands. He has very good body control. The big tight ends are really valuable in this league because they have catch radius and they can get away from a defender. It’s hard to cover them one-on-one. That’d be a big asset for us if he could keep growing that way.”

Still, no one should be surprised if fullback Kyle Juszczyk is the Ravens player who fills Daniels' void in the passing game.

He hasn't made the impact as many expected (eight catches for 95 yards and one touchdown), but he is a more polished receiver than Gillmore and he can stretch defenses down the seam. A fourth-round pick in 2013, Juszczyk led the Ravens with 10 catches for 90 yards in the preseason.

The other option for the Ravens is to use more three-wide receiver sets. But teams haven't fared well when trying to spread out the Bengals' defense. Cincinnati has held quarterbacks to the fifth-worst passer rating (73.7) when offenses line up three or more wide receivers.

Tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener have had a great deal of success going against the Bengals' linebackers. The Ravens can only hope Juszczyk and Gillmore will continue that trend.