WR Johnson continues to travel in fast lane After first-half drop, rookie shifts into high gear

August 25, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The maturation of rookie wide receiver Patrick Johnson continued at a brisk pace last night. About as briskly as he blew past members of the Philadelphia secondary.

Johnson, forced to start in place of the injured Jermaine Lewis, gave the Ravens another encouraging glimpse of the talent that compelled them to draft him in the second round.

All Johnson did was play spark plug to the Ravens' sputtering offense in the second half. Take the play he made with 5: 04 left in the third quarter with the Ravens on the Eagles' 34 and leading 10-6.

Johnson, who lined up wide right against cornerback Alundis Brice, took off on a fly pattern and started to head toward the middle as quarterback Eric Zeier released his pass. As he was leaving Brice behind, Johnson looked over his left shoulder, then reversed direction before catching Zeier's strike in the right corner of the end zone.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Johnson was at it again. This time, his victim was cornerback Clarence Love, who bit Johnson's fake on the out-and-up move. When that show was over, Johnson had hauled in Zeier's perfect pass for a 50-yard gain. It set up a 33-yard field goal by Matt Stover that made it 20-6.

Johnson finished with three catches for a game-high 95 yards.

And to think it all started with a first-half bomb from Jim Harbaugh that went through Johnson's outstretched fingers -- a play that would have loosened up the first-team offense with a touchdown.

"I was afraid that I wouldn't get the ball again. That's how it is. You might only get one shot," Johnson said. "I was fortunate that I got two more chances. This week, I was determined to get the ball. That's my job. That's what I'm getting paid to do."

Count Zeier among the growing number of Johnson fans in the locker room. Rookies like Johnson have a way of growing on veterans.

From the beginning, Johnson has been all business. He went against the grain by signing his first pro contract nearly four weeks before training camp, because he wanted to get settled in Baltimore early and begin working out with the older players.

From there, he showed up at training camp looking more polished than what had been suggested in pre-draft reports. Johnson was described as "a project" out of Oregon who was all speed and lacked football experience and toughness.

"We need to work hard and not become complacent, and [Johnson] is not one to do that," Zeier said. "He works as hard as anybody. Obviously, he played a great game tonight. He did a good job stretching the defense and getting downfield. He's tough underneath catching the ball. It's nice to have him out there throwing passes to."

After catching his first touchdown in the preseason opener against Chicago, Johnson did not touch the ball in last week's victory over the Jets. Not to worry, he said.

"Last week, I just said to myself I might as well work on my blocking, and I thought I blocked pretty well," Johnson said. "I hated dropping that ball tonight. I just try not to make the same mistake twice."

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda smiled at the thought of Johnson's future in Baltimore.

"I think it was real important for him to come in a few weeks early and spend time with us before training camp," Marchibroda said. "He understood what was going on around here. He's a quick-learning kid. He's got a lot of football savvy."

Pub Date: 8/25/98

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