Ravens counting on Hymes to rebound from knee injury

Receiver's role may grow in team's passing game


May 20, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

About a month ago, Randy Hymes sat in a room full of Ravens fans and smiled sheepishly after receiving one of the night's most heartfelt ovations.

It was at a Ravens Roost banquet in Hagerstown, where an announcer recognized Hymes as a special guest and dismissed the idea that the team does not have a quality receiver, proclaiming him a possible answer to a struggling passing game.

Hundreds of guests seconded that motion.

"When people see potential, they want potential out on the field," said Hymes, who is participating in his first practices since August this week after a knee injury cost him the entire 2003 season. "They don't like to see talent or potential sitting on the sideline because they feel that that guy can be a big part of the team.

"It feels good when they recognize you. I get a lot of, `We needed you last year.' In my mind, they didn't need me."

With Marcus Robinson gone, Hymes has had to change his mind-set. The Ravens need Hymes to show no ill effects from his knee injury and become that big-bodied receiver the team lost when Robinson signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

Asked whether he thinks Hymes can make up for the 31 catches and six touchdowns that Robinson had, Ravens coach Brian Billick said, "Very much so."

"I was anxious to see how Randy was [yesterday], on the third day when you're stiff anyway, with the leg and rehab," Billick added. "He seems strong. I'm very pleased with where Randy is now."

Hymes, who is 6 feet 3, 211 pounds, finished the 2002 season as a starter, making two catches for 76 yards (including a one-handed gem) in the finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Seemingly poised for a bigger role within the passing game, Hymes saw his 2003 season come to a crashing halt with three minutes left in the preseason finale against the New York Giants when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

It was a devastating injury for Hymes, who had become one of the go-to receivers in training camp. He finished second on the team with 115 receiving yards during the preseason.

Now, he has to start over.

"With an injury like mine, you want to prove to yourself that you can get back on the field and do the things you were capable of doing before," Hymes said.

The little taste he gave the fans at the end of the 2002 season was enough for some to wonder if the Ravens had stumbled upon a find with this undrafted former quarterback out of Grambling State.

While not a polished route runner, Hymes showed tremendous athletic ability, deceptive speed and toughness as he finished with six catches for 123 yards in 2002 - the most impressive of which converted a third-and-11 in the fourth quarter with the team trailing in Pittsburgh.

"He knows he's played this game at the highest level," Ravens receivers coach David Shaw said. "He's made big plays, one-handed catches against Pittsburgh with games on the line. He's pushed off guys, jumped over guys, made plays, and he hasn't forgotten that. He would like everybody to forget about it just so when he starts doing it again, he makes an even bigger splash."

Hymes estimates himself to be about 85 percent and hopes he can be well enough to compete for the open third-receiver slot by training camp.

The stiffest competition looks to be from rookie Devard Darling, who has yet to drop a pass this passing camp, and Ron Johnson, who had the best reception of anyone when he stretched out his body to catch a 20-yard throw yesterday.

"Right now Kevin [Johnson] and Travis [Taylor] are starting, and I'm Kevin's backup and Randy is Travis' [backup]," Ron Johnson said. "You just have to go where you're put at."

However it plays out, as long as he is on the roster, Hymes will consider his comeback from knee surgery a success.

"I just want to get back on the field, doing whatever it takes to help the team win," Hymes said. "Whether I'm on the field or off the field, I'm still going to be supportive of the team."

NOTES: Taylor was excused from yesterday's workout for personal reasons. ... Receiver Kareem Kelly fielded a number of punts and likely will be in the rotation with Lamont Brightful and Derek Abney at training camp. ... Billick's impressions heading into the final day of the four-day passing camp: "Right now it's about retention, going from one practice to the next. The challenge for them is to be able to take what they got this week and nail it down when we come back June 7."

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