Billick hoping receivers catch on

Stokley shines, but drops, missed chances show inconsistency

August 13, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- Patrick Johnson dropped a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone from Tony Banks, then came back to make an outstanding grab to set up a score on the same drive.

Justin Armour, making an unexpected start as the No. 3 receiver, caught his first pass but then dropped a perfect pass from Scott Mitchell that would have turned a third-and-18 into a first down.

Qadry Ismail, who has struggled catching the ball consistently throughout training camp, was a picture of concentration last night, collecting three straight from Mitchell in the first half.

Just another night in the Ravens' search for a dependable rotation of wide-outs.

"We've got to find somebody, or a group of somebodies, who can catch the ball when the opportunity arises," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, after the Ravens squeezed out a not-too-pretty, 10-7 victory over the Eagles in last night's preseason opener.

One thing the Ravens learned is Brandon Stokley, their fourth-round draft pick, looks more and more like a steal. All Stokley did was catch three passes for 45 yards. He put on an impressive show in the first half against the Eagles' first defense.

Stokley was the star of the Ravens' lone touchdown drive, a 60-yard march that began with 6: 50 left in the first half. Stokley turned a near-interception by Banks into a 20-yard gain on an out pattern when he snatched the ball away from cornerback Al Harris and ran down the left sideline.

On the next play, Johnson broke open with a great move to the inside, where Banks had a well-placed ball waiting for him on the goal line.

Oops, another drop. Two plays later, Johnson stretched high to snatch a 12-yard completion on third down to keep the drive alive at the 10.

Stokley re-entered the picture. On the next play, he beat cornerback Allen Rossum in the right corner of the end zone.

"My main thing tonight was to come out, play good and let my teammates know they can count on me," said Stokley, who is nursing a sore shoulder. "It felt great to do that."

Said Billick: "That shoulder concerns me, but you can see why we're so high on [Stokley]. He just has that game sense about him. He just has that feel about him."

As for the rest of the group, Billick rolled his eyes at the thought.

Veteran Jermaine Lewis, clearly the top receiver on the team, never got involved with the first-half offense.

Ismail, who started opposite Lewis, was one of the evening's pleasant surprises. After an inconsistent two weeks of training camp, he got open over the middle three consecutive times and converted with Mitchell. Two of his receptions were good for first downs.

Johnson continued to be an enigma by dropping an easy catch and making a tough one.

On the bright side, the Ravens got the whole gang involved in the passing game. Eleven players caught passes. Billy Davis, who is gaining ground by the day after signing with the Ravens in June, had three receptions for 23 yards to lead the rest of the pack.

Billick, who plans to start the season with five wide-outs on the active roster, sounded like a coach losing patience while waiting for his receivers to emerge.

"It's time to shake 'em up and see what falls out," Billick said. "The first five guys who show they can catch it, they're in. Not make great catches. Not make phenomenal catches. I'm not asking for one-handed dives in the end zone. I'm talking about when the ball is there, catch it."

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