For Johnson, dollars and sense

Raven knows big year will mean big bucks

May 19, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Heading into every season, Ravens coach Brian Billick said he has to talk about how important it will be for receiver Patrick Johnson to have a good year.

The same scenario played out when Billick addressed the media during the team's three-day passing camp, which concluded yesterday.

This time, though, those words have backing. Johnson is entering the final year of his contract, and if he is expecting a sizable increase from the Ravens or any other team, he is going to have to put up solid numbers in what should be more of a wide-open passing attack.

"Patrick knows this is a pivotal year for him," Billick said. "Seems like we say that every year. But the fact that this is that fourth free-agent year, he's very conscious of it. And I know he has designs to be a presence.

"He certainly has the tools. He has the want, the desire. I think he now has the knowledge. So we'll see if it all comes together. He certainly is deserving of it, as hard a worker as Patrick is."

Reinforcing what Billick said, Johnson was routinely one of the last players to leave the field the past three days. He and rookie quarterback Ortege Jenkins were the only two still on the field 20 minutes after Wednesday's practice.

Johnson said he wanted to help Jenkins, whom he has known since the two competed against each other in high school. Undoubtedly, Johnson wanted to help himself as well.

His position essentially will be the only one open heading into training camp in July. Qadry Ismail has the upper hand on one spot, but the other could go to Johnson, Brandon Stokley or Travis Taylor. Johnson started nine regular-season games last year.

Johnson finished the year with 12 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

"I just want to take advantage of whatever opportunities I get," Johnson said. "I don't know how many there will be or what is going to happen. I'm just going to try and be ready to take advantage of it. That is all I can do. That's one thing I've learned over the course of my career is that I can control what I can control."

His chances to make plays diminished greatly last year when Stokley moved into the starting lineup for the regular-season finale against the New York Jets. Johnson finished without a catch that game and for all three playoff games, while Stokley made one of the most memorable plays in Ravens history during the Super Bowl win - a 38-yard touchdown reception over New York Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn.

That is all history now, and with Taylor having played just nine professional games and Stokley still relatively inexperienced, Johnson could regain the starting position. The advantage Johnson has is blazing speed.

"He carries his pads well," receivers coach Mike Nolan said. "The thing that speed gives you is that it will make plays for you, but it will also set up plays for you in other areas of the game. It will set up some shorter passes because guys will respect you in a way that they will give you more cushion.

"It is a matchup thing for the defense. They want to make sure they have the right guy on him. If they have a slow guy on him, you are going to have to give that guy help. If you are a corner that does not have particularly good man-to-man skills but you are a good zone corner, then a lot of times they will roll to you to make sure you don't get beat."

Said quarterback Elvis Grbac: "For a small guy, he comes out of his breaks pretty good. His body language and cuts out of breaks are top-notch. The thing with him, more than anything, if he gets a big defensive back on him, he's got to be able to use his speed."

Johnson, who has had a variety of injuries in the past, said he is pacing himself this off-season so he will be healthy and in good form at the start of training camp.

"If the ball is there, I'll make plays," Johnson said. "In this fourth year, my goal is to not worry about anything on the outside that I don't have any control over, whether I get 200 snaps or 600.

"Personally, things haven't gone the way I've wanted them in my career. But I still came back and have gotten better every year. ... Eventually, the things that I can bring to the table will come out."

NOTES: Cornerback Duane Starks was excused from yesterday's passing camp practice because of a previous commitment with his charitable coaching clinic. ... The Ravens have not begun formal talks with Western Maryland College about extending their training camp agreement. Their original five-year contract expires at the end of this summer's camp. ... Punter Kyle Richardson's high school jersey was retired yesterday by his alma mater in Farmington, Mo.

Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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