At its roots, football is a game of strength and toughness in the trenches. Those are areas Baltimore Ravens tight end Billy Bajema excels.
Drafted in the seventh round in 2005 out of Oklahoma State, Bajema has carved out a nice eight-year NFL career despite being a one-dimensional tight end in an era when elite tight ends routinely haul in 60 to 100 receptions a season.
Bajema has 38 catches. For his entire career. He didn't record a reception last year in 11 games with the Ravens, including the playoffs. The previous season, he compiled only nine catches in 16 games with the St. Louis Rams.
The stat that stands out is Bajema has started 51 of 114 NFL games. It's evidence there's still a place for tight ends that produce running lanes and provide pass protection.
“I've tried to establish myself as the type of player who will help the team win, whether that's being a tough blocker or making sure our quarterback doesn't get hit,” Bajema said. “I've also always played on special teams. I'll do whatever I can to help. I think that's helped me stick around.”
Coming off a season he won a Super Bowl ring after seven years of playing for teams that didn't advance to the playoffs, Bajema once again is battling for a roster spot.
Ravens star tight end Dennis Pitta is out with a hip injury. Baltimore, though, signed 34-year-old tight end Dallas Clark last week after signing 33-year-old Visanthe Shiancoe before training camp.
Bajema is listed fourth on the official depth chart but has run with the first team some during camp. NFL offenses these days mandate having a pass-catching tight end. Bajema, though, is what coaches refer to as “a football player.”
Mike Whaley is the director of officials for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. His previous job was Westmoore football coach. The best player he ever coach was Billy Bajema.
“I can't speak for the NFL level, but he's always been a guy who will outwork everyone,” Whaley said. “He has the competitiveness, heart and desire to do whatever it takes.”
Whaley said Bajema's athleticism is underrated. His senior year at Westmoore, Bajema was the Jaguars starting quarterback. He also played defensive end, a terror on the D-line. A standout baseball player, Bajema preferred football over pursuing a pro baseball career.
“My entire time at Westmoore he never lost a sprint. Ever. Never lost,” Whaley said. “It didn't make a difference what group he was running with.”
Bajema's first taste of playing tight end was in the Oil Bowl, which matched Oklahoma and Texas high school all-stars a couple of months before they left for college.
“He played tight end for four days, and it was if he'd played it his whole life,” Whaley said. “He can block anything standing in front of him. A lot of blocking is about five percent technique, 95 percent want-to.”
Bajema, who lives in Edmond during the offseason, played a similar role at OSU during the Les Miles era. Bajema recorded 52 career receptions with the Cowboys, notching a career high 20 catches his senior year. He was Miles' kind of a player, a tight end who excelled in the jumbo goal-line package.