Confidence is big part of K. Johnson's game

Ravens want his swagger to rub off on receivers

April 29, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Whatever charged emotions new receiver Kevin Johnson has, the Ravens want him to carry them here.

They want him to carry that same cocky attitude that some believe caused him to go from Browns media guide cover boy to banishment from Cleveland in a matter of months. They want him to carry that swagger that has long defined the Ravens' defense but has been lacking on offense, especially from the wide-outs.

Johnson relishes getting in a cornerback's face and talking trash. En route to games, he boasts to teammates about how many touchdowns he's going to catch. And he once told reporters that there are only two people who can cover him: the quarterback and the offensive coordinator.

Resplendent in a purple dress shirt at his first Ravens news conference yesterday, Johnson said he may have changed team colors but will never alter his attitude.

"I was always taught that you've got to believe in yourself," said Johnson, 27, who was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fourth-round pick Sunday. "Because if you don't believe in yourself, how can I ask you to believe in me? I just believe in my abilities."

His resume speaks for itself.

Despite having average size and speed, Johnson has caught 332 passes in his five-year career. The NFL's all-time leading receiver, Jerry Rice, had just 14 more receptions in his first five seasons.

Great hands and consistency have been Johnson's trademarks. Whether it's holding onto the ball while taking a hit across the middle or pulling it down in traffic, he has made a catch in all 79 of his career games.

That reliability will be a major factor in trying to improve the NFL's lowest-ranked passing attack last season. Besides that production, Johnson fills another important void: a vocal leader at receiver.

"One of our objectives this offseason is to try to get that mentality that we had in our run game in our pass game," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "It's the mentality of, `We can do it no matter what the defense is doing.' I think a guy of his abilities and his demeanor is going to fit right in with that."

The same could not have been said about Johnson in Cleveland six months ago.

He fell out of favor with coach Butch Davis, who accused Johnson of not being a hard worker and being a poor influence on younger players. Browns officials reportedly said Johnson was more enamored of statistics than team goals and would speak up if he didn't get the ball even after wins.

Davis benched the Browns' leading receiver on Nov. 9 and waived him two days later.

Davis, who did not respond to an interview request yesterday, said at the time, "We know we've got guys that don't do things absolutely perfect, but one thing there can't be any compromise on is effort. You've got to give great effort and you've got to be a team guy. It's not about how many yards, how many catches, sacks, tackles. Sometimes it's an unselfish thing."

Some in the Cleveland media suggested that Johnson, who was drafted before Davis took over, never fit in with the new regime. Davis prefers big receivers with speed, and there was speculation that he wanted Quincy Morgan to become the prime receiver rather than Johnson.

"It was a relationship that went sour," Johnson said. "The head coach had certain things that he wanted to get done. Obviously, I wasn't in the plans. My production spoke for itself. As you can see, I'm not the only guy who got run out of town."

Unlike the Browns, the Ravens don't consider Johnson a risk to team chemistry. In fact, coach Brian Billick did not address the Cleveland incident when talking with Johnson on Tuesday.

"What the issues were before, I don't know and don't really care," Billick said. "Players go through different organizations and things happen for different reasons. We've seen enough of him. We know what he can do. We're very comfortable with what he represents as the complete package."

The Ravens' comfort level was increased by Johnson's short but uneventful time in Jacksonville, which beat out 15 other teams - including the Ravens - for his rights in November.

"He was a real good team guy here," said James Harris, the Jaguars' vice president of personnel who was a Ravens executive from 1997 to 2002. "He practiced hard and did all the things we asked of him. He was competitive in games. We were happy with Kevin Johnson. Baltimore gets a guy that was tested in another organization and proved to be no problem."

The Jaguars were willing to give Johnson away for a modest fourth-round pick because they drafted a receiver with the ninth overall selection and projected Johnson to be a backup.

The move also was prompted by the fact that Johnson can become a free agent after this season. Johnson, who has two years remaining on his contract, can opt out of the final year after this season.

"This allows us the opportunity to have him here and see his productivity," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. "It also allows him to see if this is a place that he would like to stay at."

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