On days when Marcus Robinson is constantly sent deep in practice, or when he runs reverses in full-contact drills against desperate third-stringers and gets pummeled, it almost appears Ravens coaches are intentionally punishing their free-agent receiver.
Really, the coaches want to prove a point.
"We've done it because Marcus hasn't played a lot of football in two years," receivers/quarterbacks coach David Shaw said. "We needed Marcus to get in as many live situations, take a lot of hits, take some pounding and make sure that his knee is going to hold up. He says he feels good, so we are going to keep doing it."
Robinson is two years removed from surgery for torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee, and he played sparingly as the fourth receiver for the Chicago Bears last season.
After 2 1/2 weeks of the most grueling work of any Ravens receiver, Robinson appears completely healed and is being a good sport in embracing the demanding role the coaches are asking of him.
Watching Robinson haul in long passes, as he did yesterday by leaping over Arthur Justin for a 36-yard reception from Kyle Boller, is becoming routine. Even more routine are the minimum three deep balls a practice Robinson gets. He is the only receiver of the 11 on the roster the Ravens have sent vertical each day.
"That's the thing I do," Robinson said. "Once you get the deep ball established in your game, then everything else will come to you."
Robinson signed a one-year contract with the Ravens after six seasons in Chicago, where three of the years ended with him on injured reserved.
The 1999 season, though, ended with Robinson setting a Bears franchise record with 1,400 receiving yards.
That was a yearlong highlight film of Robinson, 6 feet 3, 215 pounds, jumping over smaller defenders and running down sidelines past defensive backs.
"People are soon to forget that this guy was in the Pro Bowl a few years ago and he was in the Pro Bowl because he scared defenses," Shaw said. "He caught like 84 passes, and a lot of them were downfield. He's a big guy, he can run, he can catch, is physical. If we can add him to our mix and use him properly, he can really affect how defenses play us."
What Robinson gives the Ravens, provided he stays healthy, is a big receiver who excels at going vertical, a first in coach Brian Billick's five-year tenure.
Patrick Johnson and Javin Hunter, two speedsters the Ravens have tried to use in the past, probably could beat Robinson in a foot race, but Robinson makes better use of his body position and leaping ability than either of those two players.
"He's 6-3 and probably runs a 4.3 in the 40," said quarterback Anthony Wright, who played with Robinson at South Carolina. "You have to take advantage of that. That is all our team needs, a guy to go along with [Todd] Heap and Travis [Taylor]. Travis and Frank [Sanders] give us solid inside guys that will go across the middle, but Marcus is the deep threat."
It would all be coming together perfectly for Robinson if not for a case of the drops. For much of the past couple weeks, there have been far more misses than hits when Robinson stretches the field, and that is partly because of he has been bobbling, then losing the ball.
His most noticeable miscue came on a shorter route in the Ravens' preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night. Robinson had an 8-yard slant stripped from his hands as he was falling down by cornerback Nate Clements. Four plays later, the Bills scored their only offensive touchdown of the game.
"I've dropped too many balls this camp, and I've made a couple of errors I shouldn't have," Robinson said. "But it's camp, and you do those things in camp.
"I'm still upset about that play. He threw a great ball, and I was thinking something else when I should have just ran through the guy. Ultimately, you've got to make a catch because that is crunch time and you can't put your defense in that kind of position."
Robinson finished that game with one catch for 13 yards. As he has in practice this week, Robinson likely will get more of a chance to work with the starters now that Sanders is missing time with dislocated toes.
"He looks as fast as he has looked and can jump the way he can jump," Billick said of Robinson. "He needs to be more consistent coming down with the ball. That isn't an easy thing to do because you have someone trying to stop it."
For sure, the Ravens are giving Robinson enough chances in practice to become a big-play receiver.
"They want to see what type of guy I am," Robinson said. "They want to see the product they have and they are giving me the opportunity in practice."
Next for Ravens
Preseason opponent: Atlanta Falcons
Site:Georgia Dome, Atlanta
When:Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV/Radio:Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (105.7 FM)
Oakland at San Francisco, 8 p.m.
Miami at Jacksonville, 7:30 p.m.
Houston at Dallas, 8 p.m.
Seattle at Indianapolis, 8 p.m.
Carolina at N.Y. Giants, 8 p.m.
Green Bay at Cleveland, 8 p.m.
Ravens at Atlanta, 8 p.m.
Detroit at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m.
Buffalo at Tennessee, 8 p.m.
New Orleans at N.Y. Jets, 8 p.m.
New England at Washington, 8 p.m.
Denver at Chicago, 8:05 p.m.
Minnesota at Kansas City, 8:30 p.m.
Arizona at San Diego, 10 p.m.
Philadelphia 27, New Orleans 17