Roe stuck in out route Ravens: Because of injuries, promising wide receiver James Roe has yet to touch the ball this season.

October 17, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The sure hands and long strides of wide receiver James Roe were on display once again at yesterday's practice. But, as he heads into the middle of his third season with the Ravens, Roe remains one step shy of invisible.

What was supposed to be his breakout season has turned into a breakdown. What seemed like a typical right hamstring pull that Roe suffered in the middle of training camp led to other ailments in the leg, all of which have slowed a player who was never known for his speed.

By this time in 1998, Roe had envisioned himself possibly being the team's No. 3 receiver behind Michael Jackson and Jermaine Lewis. But all Roe has to show for this season is a brief appearance against Pittsburgh in the season opener, followed by four straight games on the inactive list.

Roe will remain inactive in tomorrow's rematch against the Steelers if Jackson's ailing groin muscle allows him to play.

The bottom line is Roe, whom the Ravens selected in the sixth round of the 1996 draft out of Norfolk State after he finished his collegiate career with 4,468 receiving yards -- second in NCAA history only to Jerry Rice -- has yet to touch the ball this year.

"The legs feel like they are coming back slowly, but they are coming back strong," Roe said after fielding punts at the end of yesterday's practice. "I just want to get myself back to where I was before I came to training camp. It's been frustrating, but I can't continue to worry about that. I have to worry about running good routes and catching the ball."

As he has since arriving more than two years ago, Roe, 6 feet 1, 187 pounds, still possesses arguably the smoothest hands of anyone on the Ravens' roster. He still has that distinctive, loping running style. He lacks explosion at the line of scrimmage, yet exploits zone coverages effectively over the middle.

Roe has matured physically, thanks to two diligent off-seasons of work in the weight room. He came out of the June minicamp looking primed to go after the slot receiver job.

He caught five passes for 64 yards early in the preseason. Then came the twinge he felt that day in camp. Roe's uphill climb continues.

"We wanted to give [Roe] a good chance to be No. 1 at that [slot] position, but he just hasn't gotten well since he got hurt," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, who talked with Roe about his sore right leg for several minutes after yesterday's workout.

"James feels he's about 90 percent there, but I'm not sure he knows what 90 percent in this league is," Marchibroda said. "He's doing everything he can to get ready and to be ready. If he was loafing or missing treatments, that would be different. But he's always doing his work. He's the type of guy you like to have around here."

The Ravens felt that way when they selected him. As a Division II All-America choice, Roe had 46 career touchdowns on his resume.

Roe spent his rookie year mostly observing from the inactive list, practicing behind the likes of Jackson, the now-departed Derrick Alexander and Floyd Turner. Last year, Roe gave the Ravens a glimpse of his potential by starting four games and catching seven passes for 124 yards. Five of those grabs were good for first downs.

When Alexander took the free-agent route to Kansas City seven months ago, the path seemed clearer for Roe. Then came the hamstring injury, which limited him to a brief appearance in the season opener.

During the week following that game, Roe badly strained a calf muscle in his right leg, knocking him further down the depth chart.

Another distinguishing characteristic of Roe's is his unflappability. The height of emotion for him is a frown, which he flashed while dwelling on his predicament.

"I came into camp so much stronger, faster and everything and I was running with the first team [in the three-wideout package]. Then I got that hamstring and it started going downhill," Roe said. "But I can't take [those problems] home. I've just tried to get better in other areas. I'm strengthening my upper body more, learning the game more.

"It's out of my hands now. Once I get back, I want to be the total package. My time will come. I'm patient enough to know that, and I do believe that. It's a long season."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers

Site: Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh

When: Tomorrow, 1: 01 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Steelers by 5 1/2

Pub Date: 10/17/98

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