Oft-questioned Taylor hopes to have answers

Wide-out enters 5th year chasing 1,000-yard mark

Ravens Training Camp

August 04, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Travis Taylor enters his fifth NFL season with a familiar theme hanging over his head.

Years change, but the story line tends to remain the same for the Ravens wide receiver, who continues to leave many observers wondering when he will have the type of season expected of him when the team made him the No. 10 overall pick in the 2000 draft.

Every year around this time, and especially in the past two years, speculation swirls about Taylor's chances of reaching that elusive benchmark of 1,000 receiving yards, with skeptics filling talk shows and message boards with questions of when he'll get there, if ever.

The questions are no different this year, but a few factors suggest Taylor's production may be.

First, Taylor, who has been through eight quarterbacks in five years, will have the same passer (Kyle Boller) heading into this season for the first time in his career. Secondly, his contract is up following this season.

More importantly, with all the offseason work he and Boller put in - throwing about three times a week over a two-month span - Taylor said he is the most comfortable he has ever been.

"My confidence level in my teammates, the offense itself, the opportunities we'll have to catch the ball is higher than in the past," Taylor said. "We've done a lot of different things. It's definitely going to create a lot of mismatches and situations we want to be in."

So what will all that lead to? The key word Ravens coaches use is "efficiency."

"For Travis to be a more efficient and effective player, he doesn't have to catch 90 balls, but he's got to catch between 60 and 80, and there has to be yards after the catch," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said.

"He's got to be consistent with his catches, cut down the drops, then when he gets the ball in his hands, get some yards after catch. And that is where we are looking for improvement in him - not necessarily putting up huge numbers so everybody in the league goes, `Wow, how did that guy come up with 95 catches, 1,500 yards?'"

Taylor, though, does not see 1,300 yards as out of reach despite the Ravens' ball-control, run-oriented system. That's nearly double what Taylor has averaged over the past three seasons (687 yards).

"Anything is possible," Taylor said. "If we throw the ball 25 times a game, complete it 17, 18 times, we definitely can do it."

Boller seems primed to give Taylor the chance. Asked if he thought Taylor would be his go-to guy, Boller said, "I hope so."

And so should Taylor if he wants the big-money contract received by some of his fellow receivers.

While many of the game's up-and-coming receivers (including Washington's Laveranues Coles, Seattle's Darrell Jackson and Carolina's Steve Smith) all had their most productive seasons in the final year of their contracts and were rewarded handsomely for doing so, Taylor said that is not something he is concerning himself with.

Each of those players went over 1,000 yards receiving in the last year of their contracts.

"I don't want to be among the elite receivers money-wise, but I want to be among the elite receivers as far as catching passes-wise," said Taylor, who had 39 catches for 632 yards and three touchdowns last season. "That's the biggest thing. If I can be mentioned with Torry Holt, Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison, that would be great. I just want to be a great player in this game."

Not arriving at that elite level yet hasn't bothered Taylor outwardly as much as it seems to annoy others, but some around him say they're sensing he might be tiring of the negative chatter.

"I know there is frustration on Travis' part because he, like everybody in the world, can be sensitive when there is criticism after criticism that you're not living up to expectations," Cavanaugh said. "But he's a strong person, and he knows that some of the expectations are way too high, and they don't fit our mode."

Getting bogged down by criticism also does not fit Taylor's personality. Known among teammates as one of the most likable and hard-working players on the team, Taylor continues to go about the business of being the best he can be.

With a few different circumstances around him this year, his best might be better than anything seen thus far.

"I don't listen to a lot of people," Taylor said. "If it's my mother or my wife, that's a different story. If you are not my mother or my wife, I really don't care about what you say about [what I'm] doing on the field. If other people say bad things about me, you are either going to have to get open or start hating them.

"My biggest thing is going out and playing football."

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