Looks do deceive: This rookie can receive

Not considered much of a catch, Cards' Boldin is among NFL leaders

Pro Football

October 11, 2003|By Darren Urban | Darren Urban,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TEMPE, Ariz. - Everything about Anquan Boldin indicated he wouldn't be doing what he is doing as a rookie receiver for the Arizona Cardinals.

He wasn't fast. His 4.7-second time in the 40-yard dash was a major reason he slipped to late in the second round of the 2003 draft.

He wasn't experienced. He was a quarterback in high school, and his development as a wide-out at Florida State was hampered by a major knee injury and the time he spent playing quarterback there.

He wasn't the primary option. The Cardinals took another receiver - Bryant Johnson, a Baltimore City College and Penn State player, with a first-round pick.

Yet coach Dave McGinnis and offensive coordinator Jerry Sullivan fell in love with Boldin from the first day he showed up at the team's training complex. Boldin became Sullivan's pet project, and he has become the early leading candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

"It was pretty evident early that Anquan was a more mature guy than your average receiver, wasn't awed by the competition," Sullivan said.

The Cardinals are 1-4 heading into tomorrow's 4:15 p.m. game against the Ravens, but Boldin has been the bright spot. He has 33 catches (tied for the NFL lead, even after a three-catch performance last week) and is third in the NFL in receiving yards with 497. He is on pace to shatter NFL rookie records for receptions (90, by New England's Terry Glenn in 1996) and yards (1,473, by Houston's Bill Groman in 1960).

He has already become quarterback Jeff Blake's first choice on virtually every play.

"I don't think it surprised any of us that watched him and that have worked with him," McGinnis said. "He is a constant playmaker.

"We have put a lot on Anquan, the things we have asked him to do."

The receiving corps was supposed to be the Cardinals' weakest spot coming into the season. The team let David Boston, current Raven Frank Sanders and MarTay Jenkins walk away in free agency. Unknowns named Larry Foster and Bryan Gilmore were the starting wide-outs coming out of training camp.

But by then, Boldin, the 54th pick overall, already was the top target. Injuries allowed Johnson and him to get into the starting lineup (although Johnson will not play against the Ravens because of a shoulder sprain). Blake has been impressed with their progress and so far, the Cardinals have had bigger problems in many other places than their pass catchers.

"Them dudes know how to play football," Blake said. "I don't have to hold their hands. They've been playing since they were 8 years old. It hasn't changed. I can't teach [Boldin] how to make people miss like he does."

Said Boldin: "We don't have time to be rookies right now. We have to grow up fast and plug into this offense."

Boldin had wondered aloud before the season whether anyone outside of the organization had any kind of expectations of him. The answer then was that they didn't. They do now.

Dallas coach Bill Parcells remarked last week he hadn't seen a rookie make this sort of impact in a long time.

Meanwhile, high picks like Detroit's Charles Rogers (No. 2 overall, now out with a broken collarbone) and Houston's Andre Johnson (No. 3) haven't quite made it to Boldin's level.

"I don't know the learning curve or how fast you are supposed to learn," Boldin said. "Those guys at [Nos.] 2 and 3, they have a lot of pressure on them. For me, I can come out and have fun, not worry about the pressure."

Next for Ravens

Matchup:Ravens (2-2) vs. Arizona Cardinals (1-4)

Site:Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

When:Tomorrow, 4:15 p.m.

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

Line:Ravens by 5 1/2

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