Receiving pair widely talented Ravens: Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander have picked up from last year, and again are one of the NFL's top tandems.

September 10, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

They have blossomed into one of the NFL's most productive and dangerous tandems, and Ravens receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander have a message for cornerbacks charged with stopping them.

Bring it on. Take your best shot. In the end, it won't be good enough.

"We feel like we can beat any corners. We always feel we're going to have a big day if we go out and execute," Alexander said. "We know it's going to be tough for them to cover both of us."

"After the first half of last season, when we were killing some of the so-called better corners in the league, we knew we could beat any of them," Jackson said. "I really don't think any corners out there can cover us one-on-one. There might be one up and coming, but he's not here yet."

Jackson and Alexander have arrived, as they reminded observers in Sunday's 23-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. With second-year receiver Jermaine Lewis -- who stole the show with two touchdown receptions in the season opener a week earlier -- out with a knee injury, the Ravens' mainstays commanded the stage in a way that affirmed their 1996 season was no fluke.

Alexander caught eight passes for 104 yards, including a 45-yard reception that set up a third-quarter, go-ahead touchdown. Jackson contributed six catches for 85 yards. Each produced four first downs. In all, it seemed like standard fare for the duo that achieved 1,000-yard seasons a year ago, one of only four pairs in the league to do it.

They have yet to become Duper-Clayton, Rice-Taylor or Monk-Clark. But, if Jackson and Alexander stay together long enough in this era of free agency, they could become the same type of two-headed monster.

"After going to the Pro Bowl and seeing the talent out there, I think Mike and Derrick are two of the top six receivers in the league," Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde said.

"There's no question that I'm throwing to the best tandem in the NFL. Hands down."

And if you think Jackson and Alexander enjoy beating their men down the field, watch them battle for position in the Ravens' locker room. One could say they have a collective eye on the stats sheet.

"Derrick responds to me and I respond to him. We want to outdo each other," Jackson said.

"If he catches three balls and I don't have one yet, I've got to make a big play with one big one. It's just like [Ravens offensive linemen] Orlando [Brown] and [Jeff] Blackshear talking in the huddle about who had the best pancake block. That's what makes teammates better."

With the exception of their deceptive, breakaway speed ("It's like they're gliding instead of running," said fellow receiver Ryan Yarborough), Jackson and Alexander bring different styles to the field.

At 6 feet 4, 195 pounds, Jackson uses his long arms -- he has one of the league's more effective stiff-arm maneuvers -- and leaping ability to overmatch the many shorter cornerbacks he faces. He simply outjumped opponents to catch two game-winning passes last year.

And Jackson is the bigger trash talker of the two.

Alexander, 6-2, 195, is more physical, a better blocker and -- as Jackson admits -- more adept at gaining yards after he makes a catch. Always among the more reserved players in the locker room, Alexander tends to keep his emotions pretty much in check on game day.

"I pride myself on what I do after the catch," said Alexander, who dragged two Cincinnati defenders for about 10 yards to complete his 45-yard play on Sunday. "I like to think I break a few tackles. I've had to work for those yards."

"He's more agile than me," Jackson said of Alexander. "He looks better because he's more fluid than me. He's a running back playing receiver."

Said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda: "Michael is the more spectacular receiver, because with those long arms, he can get up and catch the ball at its [peak]. Derrick will make the big play running with the ball. He gets the most out of every play. It's an excellent pair to have."

Dating to their original days in Cleveland, Jackson and Alexander went through typical growing pains in the NFL.

A sixth-round pick in 1991 out of Southern Mississippi -- where he was recruited as a quarterback and ended up as a favorite target of Brett Favre -- Jackson battled injuries for much of his first five seasons. Still, he averaged one touchdown per six receptions over that span.

Alexander, a first-round pick out of Michigan in 1994, had a promising rookie season (a 17.3-yard average on 48 receptions), but was benched in favor of free-agent acquisition Andre Rison in 1995.

In Marchibroda's three-receiver offense, the pair found a home in Baltimore last year, combining for 23 touchdowns. Jackson tied for the league lead with 14.

They also have settled into Baltimore in other ways.

Last month, Jackson announced his new record production company, Big Play Entertainment, will be based in East Baltimore and will provide record deals for local residents.

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