Stokley finds that his hands are full

In Ravens' dismal offense, receiver `one bright spot' with 10 catches in 2 games

September 18, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

A day after he led the team in receiving for the second straight week, Brandon Stokley walked around the Ravens' training facility with his knees uncovered.

To Stokley's satisfaction, there were no wraps, braces or ice packs on his formerly bothersome knees, a sight not seen after games last year.

"My body feels great right now; my knee is feeling great," Stokley said. "I know if I can stay healthy, I can go out there and make plays."

Little of anything has come from a Ravens offense that has scored one touchdown in two games and is on a scoreless string of 20 straight drives. One of the few positives is that Stokley, a fourth-round pick in 1999, is proving to be the most consistent receiver.

Largely a backup the past three seasons, Stokley leads the team with 10 catches for 140 yards, and could have had a couple of touchdowns if not for errant throws by quarterback Chris Redman. Stokley was coming open down the middle of Tampa Bay's two-deep zone Sunday in the Ravens' 25-0 loss, but Redman's pass died 30 yards downfield and one-hopped the receiver.

"He's been the one bright spot in the two weeks we've played in that he's been very consistent and made plays for us," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said.

"I don't ever think there was any question about his ability; it was just a matter of him staying healthy. He's a great route runner, [has] excellent hands, and he is somebody Chris has a lot of confidence in."

Redman attempted passes to Stokley nine times Sunday, completing four for 57 yards. The timing between Redman and Stokley is further along than with Redman and 2000 No. 1 draft pick Travis Taylor. Redman attempted 10 passes to Taylor, completing just two.

"I'm just ready for that every game," Stokley said. "I'm ready to be the guy that when [Redman is] in trouble, he knows he can bail out and throw the ball to me, and I'm going to be open for him. I've been waiting for this opportunity for three years now, and I think I've got it."

Stokley entered the season with 36 catches for 556 yards and five touchdowns. He signed a one-year, $563,000 tender this offseason and will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. He will likely need to double those numbers this season to attract a significant contract offer from any team.

"It's more pressure on you because you know what the stakes are," Stokley said. "You have a lot riding on one year. I kind of like that pressure of going out there, playing for a contract and earning my money. I just want to play well this year, and hopefully I'll be rewarded for it."

Premature as it may be, Stokley is on pace to have a 1,000-yard season. The Ravens' coaching staff believes he can do it - his career following the path of New England's Troy Brown and Tennessee's Derrick Mason, guys who remained below the NFL radar as third and fourth receivers the early part of their careers before excelling as primary targets.

Despite his 5-foot-11, 197-pound frame, middle draft status and relative anonymity, Stokley has that chance. But he knows his body must hold up.

"For as little as he's played the past couple of years, he's been productive when he's been in there," Cavanaugh said. "He's played in the shadow of Qadry [Ismail], in the shadow of Shannon Sharpe and Jermaine Lewis earlier. He was always battling for a job. He's come out as the clear-cut starter this year early in minicamp, and he's done nothing but do everything we've asked him well. ...

"When it's all said and done, I'm expecting him to have an 80-catch season and close to 1,000 yards, and maybe people will start to recognize him a little bit."

NOTES: Running back Jamal Lewis had an X-ray of his ribs yesterday, and preliminary reports found no damage. Lewis injured his ribs in the first quarter Sunday but returned after missing just a few plays. ... The Ravens (0-2) will practice today through Friday, have the weekend off and return for an afternoon practice Monday. "I'd much rather have a game this week to try and get better than to have a bye right now," said coach Brian Billick.

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