Taylor reels in first-string spot

Ravens wide receiver gets nod over Stokley

October 02, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Travis Taylor has earned a promotion.

Ravens coach Brian Billick said yesterday that Taylor, the team's go-to receiver of the future, would receive extended action in the present, replacing Brandon Stokley as the starting flanker.

The move comes after Taylor set a career high with 90 yards receiving on four receptions, including a dazzling one-handed catch for the game-winning touchdown, in Sunday's 20-13 victory over the Denver Broncos. The 10th pick in the 2000 draft, Taylor was given the offensive game ball after a dynamic effort in his first start in nearly a year.

"He's maturing," Billick said of his 22-year-old receiver. "You have to remember how young Travis is. It also has to do with [quarterback] Elvis [Grbac] having a comfort zone with both of them [Taylor and split end Qadry Ismail], and obviously this will go a long way toward that."

The offense has begun to take shape as the Ravens (2-1) once again sit atop the AFC Central. They play host to the Tennessee Titans (0-2) at PSINet Stadium Sunday.

In facing the high-pressure Titans defense, the Ravens may again turn to Taylor, their intriguing receiver with raw talent. At 6 feet 1, 200 pounds, Taylor combines size with breakaway speed.

His big-play potential surfaced on his first catch Sunday, as Taylor caught the pass on a short slant, broke a tackle by Denver strong safety Kenoy Kennedy and raced 40 yards down the field. That 63-yard strike was the longest catch by a Ravens wide receiver in two years.

"He certainly has the ability as that 10th pick to give you that major presence," Billick said. "[Ismail] is solid; we know that. To have a strong presence on the other side would be huge for us. His continual progression could be a real key for us."

Taylor made his first appearance in the starting lineup since Oct. 29, 2000, when his rookie season abruptly ended with a broken collarbone.

During the off-season, Taylor was relegated to the slot receiver on the Ravens' three-wideout sets and his starting flanker job was given to Stokley. But Stokley sprained a ligament in his knee in Cincinnati and backup Patrick Johnson hadn't overcome a foot injury, opening up Taylor's old spot.

Taylor didn't disappoint, making three catches for first downs and dropping just one pass. He raised his average yards a catch to a team-leading 16.8 and prompted Billick to return him to the starting lineup, where he'll remain even after Stokley becomes injury-free.

"It feels great," Taylor said of his performance. "Anytime you get on the field at the top of your profession and contribute, it's always good."

In comparison, Stokley has caught five passes for 44 yards, with his longest reception going for 12 yards.

"Brandon will be there on three wides and we may get into a rotation depending what the opponent calls for," Billick said. "When Patrick and Brandon are back healthy, they'll get back to more playing time."

Billick also pried open the door for more playing time for Jason Brookins. The backup running back surged for 31 yards on only four carries, showing a strong burst on each touch.

"The more Jason continues to play well and can stay focused, the more he will play," Billick said. "He did some very good things. He did a couple of things that we can't have happen. So, that's going to be his challenge."

Right now, there is no set plan at running back. The Ravens will hand the ball off to Terry Allen for most of the game, with Brookins alternating in for entire series at a time.

"We know that Terry will get to a certain point in the season where he may wear down," Billick said. "So, this is a by-the-feel thing. Let's see how it goes. The important thing is to get the team comfortable no matter who is in."

Billick said Brookins ran the wrong way twice and made a mistake in pass protection that led to Grbac getting hit. But Brookins had a positive effect as well, breaking off a 20-yard run on a draw play in Sunday's game-winning drive.

"I showed them that when I make a mistake, I also come back and do big things," Brookins said. "He [Billick] has to like that."

Allen had his best game as a Raven. The 33-year-old running back produced 65 yards on 19 carries.

After watching the film, the Ravens credit their improved running game to their offensive line wearing down the Broncos and Allen capitalizing on it.

"I think Terry was comfortable with what we were running and the offensive line blocked better," Billick said. "He just hit the holes better and there were better holes to hit."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Tennessee Titans

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

The line: Ravens by 4

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