Will Jackson be receptive to Ravens' new short game?

August 13, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

All is quiet now, but let's fast-forward to Week 4 of the regular season, and check in on Michael Jackson and the Ravens' new two-back offense.

Tight end Eric Green leads the team in receptions. Jermaine Lewis is emerging as the principal deep threat. And MJ is in a mood.

"Evidently, I am no longer part of this team," Jackson will sniff. "When will they start calling my number? You can't score if you don't have the ball."

Off he'll go, critiquing the offense, predicting that the team won't pick up his $3 million option, wondering what he ever did to deserve such a wretched fate.

A far-fetched scenario?


Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda already is bracing for the inevitable, for Jackson to pop off the moment he feels neglected.

"He will," Marchibroda said yesterday, chuckling. "I just hope we're winning."

He hopes, because he knows that the Ravens will play little ball instead of long ball this season, dumping the ball more to their running backs and tight ends than going deep to their wide-outs.

He hopes, because he knows that Jackson has the classic wide receiver's mentality, as portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in "Jerry Maguire," and Keyshawn Johnson in his book, "Just Give Me the Damn Ball!"

And he hopes, because if the new offense takes shape, Jackson could turn into this season's Derrick Alexander and sulk his way out of the organization.

"Don't prejudge that," owner Art Modell said of the offense. "We're trying to put in a system, going to a short game, then to a long vertical game. These are the fastest wide receivers I've ever had."

Jackson, 29, declined to comment yesterday, saying it was too early in the preseason to address his situation.

Give him time.

He won't stay silent long.

Wide receivers aren't your typical football players. Many of them are more like baseball players, pouting over roles, reciting their stats, looking out for No. 1.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Jackson is a typical member of the fraternity. He isn't overly disruptive. But at times, he can sound almost comically self-absorbed.

There was the time last season when he spoke with a group of reporters about the Orioles' pitching, and mused that he could use a new pitcher himself.

There was the time before the draft when he was asked about facing small cornerbacks like Duane Starks, and replied that he indeed might have an advantage, if only the Ravens would call his preferred fade route.

And there was the time last December when he said, "A year ago, we had more confidence in our offense compared to other teams in our league, even the NBA. Now, we just have a lot of unsatisfied individuals."

Starting with you-know-who.

Jackson had a beef -- the Ravens started 3-1 last season with him averaging nearly six catches per game and 16.2 yards per reception. But they went 3-8-1 after that, with Jackson averaging fewer than four catches per game and 11.8 yards per reception.

No question, the return of Bam Morris in Week 5 disrupted the offense. But in the two-back scheme, Jackson should know he isn't going to catch 76 passes, his total in the Ravens' first season, or even 69, his total last year.

"We should not throw the ball that much this year for him to catch that many passes," Marchibroda said. "But he still could have a big year, because the catches could be more meaningful."

Could be.

Jackson made fewer big plays last season, partly because he played with a painful shoulder injury, partly because quarterback Vinny Testaverde disintegrated, partly because the Ravens lacked an offensive identity.

"He's still a threat," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "He's the type of guy that people around the league know can catch a long pass and turn into six points."

Jackson is fourth in the NFL with 27 touchdown receptions the past three seasons, but he had only four last year, down from 14 in '96. And now, his quarterback is Jim Harbaugh, who won't throw deep as often as Testaverde.

In '95, Harbaugh nearly led Indianapolis to the Super Bowl, and running back Marshall Faulk led the team with 56 receptions. Wide receiver Sean Dawkins was second with 52, tight end Ken Dilger third with 42.

In '96, the Colts returned to the playoffs, and rookie wide-out Marvin Harrison led them with 64 catches. Faulk was second with 56, Dawkins third with 54 and Dilger fourth with 42.

In other words, it's possible for a wide-out to thrive in this offense. But who's to say that wide-out will be Jackson? Lewis is younger and faster. So is rookie Patrick Johnson, whom Marchibroda describes as "a force to be reckoned with."

The Ravens were admittedly conservative in their first preseason game, a 19-14 victory over the Chicago Bears. But perhaps it was telling that Green caught four passes, fullback Roosevelt Potts three and Jackson one.

"Over the season, it all comes out even," Marchibroda said. "He'll get more than his share. It doesn't mean he'll get them every game. It doesn't work that way. He has to be ready when it's his day."

Harbaugh struck a similar tone, saying that he'll find different receivers in different games. "My experience is that when you win, everyone's happy," the quarterback said.

Will Michael Jackson be happy?

He's quiet now.

But he won't stay silent long.

Pub Date: 8/13/98

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