Forget the curl, it is time for `vet' Taylor to go deep

May 23, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

RAVENS WIDE RECEIVER Travis Taylor has gone from a young prospect to veteran in less than one full off-season. There is still a learning curve, but it became accelerated when the team released receivers Qadry Ismail and Shannon Sharpe in March.

Those moves left Taylor, a No. 10 overall selection in the first round of the 2000 draft, in the spotlight. Tight end Todd Heap is a first-round draft pick, but he is only in his second year. Quarterback Chris Redman will be under scrutiny, but he is only a third-round draft pick with limited experience.

And then there is Taylor.

He was a full-time starter last season. He is also entering his third season, which is considered part of the break-out window. The Ravens showed Taylor the money with a five-year, $7.4 million rookie contract ($5 million signing bonus), now it's time for him to show some big numbers.

If Taylor succeeds, then player-agent Roosevelt Barnes might stop delivering those vicious, verbal body blows that put head coach Brian Billick on the ropes yesterday morning about his low-scoring offense. In case you're interested, it's Barnes 5, Billick 2, with Billick needing to be urged by his handlers to say "no mas" for fear of getting his ego permanently damaged.

"We've talked about how young Travis was when he came out, the potential that he has," Billick said. "The word potential has to come off now, and he knows that. This is a pivotal year for him going into his third year, going into that fourth year of free agency to show what he is about.

"You'd love to see the ascension of Travis Taylor much like you saw with David Boston [Arizona wide receiver] going into his third year," Billick said. "The first two years were OK and then he exploded onto the scene."

Taylor looks forward to the challenge. During this week's passing camp, he is often first in line for drills. Instead of seeking instruction, he is actually giving advice. Taylor is an elder statesman along with fourth-year player Brandon Stokley.

"It's a challenge, especially with so many young guys," Taylor said. "We have five rookie receivers. Me and Brandon have to help the guys out here and there. We're learning and teaching at the same time. This is a new experience for us. Before, we had Qadry or even a Billy Davis here. They taught us about the game, how much faster it is than the college game. They taught us about angles, and as a receiver, the game is all about angles."

Taylor has the physical abilities. He is 6 feet 1 and weighs 212, up 7 pounds from a year ago. He doesn't have great speed, but does have solid hands and runs extremely well after the catch.

He played well as a rookie with 28 receptions for 276 yards and three touchdowns before a fractured clavicle vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 29 sidelined him for the season. Taylor started off strong last season. He had four receptions for 44 yards in Game No. 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals, and four for 90 the next week vs. Denver. He had eight more over the next two weeks, and then Taylor started fading.

That's been his MO: here two weeks, gone the next. Here three weeks, disappear for three more. Taylor ended up third on the team in receptions with 42 for 560 yards and three touchdowns behind Ismail and Sharpe.

But they're gone. It's the Travis Taylor Show, if he can star.

"I hope for a breakout year," said Taylor, a former University of Florida standout. "For Chris, Brandon and myself, it's important for us to step up this year. For me, it's team goals over personal goals. I want to win. I'm not a loser. The last time I had a losing season was back in high school."

The inconsistency is not all Taylor's fault. A lot of players have disappeared in this graveyard of an offense, the latest being quarterback Elvis Grbac, who went from the Pro Bowl the year before in Kansas City into retirement after playing in Baltimore. That's unbelievable in itself. But it's an offense that has a yearly identity crisis, and Taylor has played with four quarterbacks in two years.

It's Redman's turn now, at least through training camp.

"For the last three seasons, Chris has been one of the team's best quarterbacks," Taylor said. "I think we're on the same page. I want to become the go-to guy, but not just in the red zone, all over the field."

Like in past off-seasons, Taylor has been working out with former Minnesota Vikings receiver Cris Carter. But instead of running, Taylor has put in more time in the weight room. The added bulk is noticeable. Reserve quarterback Jeff Blake has known Taylor for only a short while, but is impressed with Taylor's work ethic.

"He still has a lot of learning to do, but that will come with game-time experience," Blake said. "If he continues to work, he'll become the guy, the go-to go you need."

Taylor said: "I've got to step up my game. The last couple of years I haven't done what I wanted to do personally. I need to become more consistent and focused, not what I have done in the last two or three weeks, but from game to game.

"When you have that tag, there is a lot that comes with it, and a lot that doesn't," Taylor said. "Some of the best guys in this league weren't drafted in the first round, and some were. But as long as you can play football, who cares?`

Owner Art Modell cares. So does Ozzie Newsome, the team's senior vice president of football operations. But no one knows if Taylor can become the go-to guy and play the type of football the Ravens will need this season. Not Billick, not Barnes, not even Taylor himself.

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