Raven on the fast track

Johnson gets in tune by studying tapes of the game's best

June 07, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Patrick Johnson has beaten Carl Lewis in a dead sprint. The third-year receiver has been clocked at running the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds, one of the best times ever by a Raven.

Yet Johnson only improved when he decided to sit still.

This off-season, the fast track for Johnson started in the film room of his Las Vegas home. He has cluttered the floor with tapes of the last four Pro Bowls and videos of games dating back to 1987.

Johnson, though, has a specific purpose with each tape, scouting out receivers built similar to his 5-foot-10, 180-poundstature. In only his seventh year of playing football, Johnson has raced up the learning curve by dissecting and mirroring the styles of Jerry Rice, Andre Rison, Henry Ellard and Webster Slaughter.

It's a drastic turnaround for a player known for being hyper and whom coach Brian Billick referred yesterday as having "a little Taz left in him."

"I really have learned patience," said Johnson, the Ravens' fourth-leading receiver last season, after completing the second day of passing camp yesterday. "I knew I was getting better. It was only a matter of time when. I'm trying to develop myself into a complete receiver and that's what I aim to do."

When he wanted to try to find the best way at beating teams that tend to bump receivers at the line of scrimmage, he popped in the 1997 tape of the New York Jets at Seattle.

He focused on how Seahawks receivers Joey Galloway and Mike Pritchard ran slants against the press, sketching out on a piece of paper the number of steps they would take in running the routes. The next day, Johnson would mimic those exact patterns on the field.

"From December up until now, I can honestly say that I've progressed a lot," Johnson said. "I realize I had to become a smarter player."

For Johnson, it meant becoming smarter off the field as well.

After a quiet rookie season, the Ravens' 1998 second-round draft pick heard the criticism of being a one-dimensional downfield threat and the knock that he had bad hands. Add in the weight of trying to impress new coaches and Johnson managed just six catches over the first nine games.

"I think I put so much pressure on myself coming in with a new coaching staff that everything just flopped," Johnson said. "It took pretty much three-quarters of the season to regroup."

Johnson rediscovered his confidence and forced his way up the depth chart.

Starting six of the last seven games, Johnson caught 23 passes for 407 yards and two touchdowns. In the season finale at New England, he recorded nine catches, the most by a Raven all season.

"The question of whether I can be a starter should not be a question," Johnson said. "I feel like I'm past the stage of trying to prove whether I can be a starter. I've proved that I can be a starter. I've proved I can make plays. I proved I can have a multi-catch game."

Said Billick: "Patrick showed last year in the latter half of the season that he can be an impact for us. He just has to do it more on a consistent basis now and show he can do those little things down in and down out."

Johnson echoed Billick's expectations.

He wants to score on a drag or hitch pattern as much as an 80-yard bomb. He foresees himself as much as a threat in the slot as on the outside. He feels that he can read defenses and adjust his routes better now.

So, it's not a matter of how quickly Johnson can run anymore. It's a matter of how quickly he has learned.

"They're a lot of guys that can run 4.2 [seconds in the 40]," Johnson said. "But can you run a route? Can you release off the ball? Can you do all those things but still have that speed? Not a lot of guys in the league can do that, but that's what I aim to prove. I have more of a passion for the game now than I did before."

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