PITTSBURGH -- To understand how unsettled the Ravens' receiving corps suddenly has become, all you needed to do was catch a glimpse of the team's practices last week.
Wide receiver Michael Jackson, limited by a shoulder injury, was a bystander. Except for Wednesday, when he practiced before his ankle injury flared up, slot receiver Jermaine Lewis also sat out. Meanwhile, the remaining three receivers -- Derrick Alexander, Ryan Yarborough and James Roe -- looked like chess pieces.
Alexander, who always works as a wide-out, ran some plays out of the slot. Yarborough, Lewis' normal backup in the slot, spent time as a wide-out. And Roe, the second-year wide receiver who was waiting for a chance to catch the first pass of his career, worked at all three positions.
"That's not the way you normally want to [prepare]. It makes it a little tougher on everybody," Ravens receivers coach Richard Mann said. "But we had to do that to cover all of the bases."
Although it had no bearing on the outcome of last night's 37-0 pasting by the Steelers, the Ravens tested the depth of their receivers like never before. For the first time this season, Jackson and Lewis did not start. For Jackson, it marked the first time in 26 games he watched the first play from scrimmage on the sideline.
The Ravens opened with Yarborough -- claimed off of waivers from the Green Bay Packers before training camp -- and second-year man Roe at wide-outs, with Alexander in the slot.
The combination did little to spark the Ravens, although Roe enjoyed a special moment five minutes into the game, when he caught his first pass as a professional. After hauling in a 9-yard completion from quarterback Vinny Testaverde, Roe was blasted by Pittsburgh cornerback Chad Scott and safety Carnell Lake.
"Yeah, they got me pretty good, but I still hung onto that ball," said Roe, a sixth-round draft pick last year out of Norfolk State. "I'm just glad the team and the organization had enough confidence to put me out there."
Roe went on to catch a 6-yard pass on that same drive, which ended on the next play with Testaverde's second interception. Roe finished with two catches for 15 yards.
Yarborough finished with one catch for 13 yards. He also was in the middle of some rough moments.
Testaverde's second interception, thrown into double coverage over the middle, was intended for Yarborough. Two plays before that, Yarborough appeared to make an excellent grab of a 30-yard pass on the far sideline, but officials ruled that he had stepped out of bounds before making the catch. He also dropped a long pass in the third quarter that could have put the Ravens in position for an elusive touchdown.
Late in the first quarter, Jackson and Lewis re-entered the game to join Alexander, who stayed in the slot. Even with the Ravens' normally productive trio on the field, they never sustained enough momentum to get near the Pittsburgh end zone.
Alexander finished with three catches for 47 yards, and Jackson had two catches for 20. As late as Thursday, Jackson was listed as doubtful for the Steelers game.
"When I woke up this morning, I felt pretty good. I talked to the doctors and told them I could play," Jackson said. "I knew James was going to start. He took the snaps all week, and he was prepared.
"James has had to crawl to get here. He's done it every day in practice, and I know it was exciting for him tonight. Now, I expect more from James. I think he's going to be a great receiver."
"I just wanted to get into a good rhythm with Vinny to show him he can have confidence in me," Roe said. "I've been studying the playbook a little harder. If I'm called upon, I just want to play my game, have some fun and let things fall where they fall."
Pub Date: 11/10/97