With T. Taylor down, Hymes hoping to move up for Ravens

Getting the start, receiver out to get passing game off ground

September 17, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Ravens offensive players and coaches often don't look back with fondness at games against the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense.

Witness coach Brian Billick's warning to his receivers, two of whom are rookies who will likely see action when the Ravens play host to the Steelers and their punishing defense Sunday.

"Grow up quick," Billick said. "You are past the learning curve, baby. Against Pittsburgh, you will grow up quick, and if you don't, you may die."

The last time Randy Hymes flourished was when he faced the Steelers in a season-ending loss in 2002. Hymes made a one-handed catch on a third-and-11 for 33 yards that extended a drive in the fourth quarter. He also had a 43-yard catch earlier in that game.

The Ravens might need such heroics from Hymes this time around to help offset the loss of receiver Travis Taylor, who is out with a groin injury.

Hymes will replace Taylor in the starting lineup (likely for the next four games), and is primed to play his most snaps since he made the team as an undrafted free agent two years ago and started the last two games of that season.

"I thought I played pretty decent in that game [against the Steelers], so I'm thinking Pittsburgh is going to be watching film on me from the last time," Hymes said.

Steelers coaches may have to go back that far because there is only limited game-action film of Hymes since that time. Hymes missed all of last year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the preseason.

He started slow in training camp this year, not having his full speed and dropping an uncharacteristically high number of passes, but he came on strong in the Ravens' season-opening 20-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Hymes had five catches for 39 yards, playing the final three quarters for Taylor.

Knowing he will be counted on to do the things Taylor does, Hymes repeated the company line issued by coaches earlier this week. His main goal against the Steelers? "Just going out and blocking downfield for Jamal [Lewis]," Hymes said. "We want to get him back on track with the rushing record."

Coaches pointed to a lack of blocking by receivers as one of the reasons Lewis was held to 57 yards against the Browns.

Hymes, fellow starter Kevin Johnson and third-receiver Devard Darling will be called upon to give a better effort in that department. Receivers were also criticized by others for not getting much separation against the defensive backs during the Ravens' failed comeback attempt in the fourth quarter.

But none of the receivers had played with quarterback Kyle Boller in a regular-season game. The Ravens' fourth-quarter possessions ended with an interception, a Boller fumble on a sack, another interception and the game clock expiring with the Ravens at the Cleveland 49.

"It is easy to sit back and say woe is us, but those guys get paid, and Kyle worked with them in the preseason, so we've just got to make due," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "They are all going to get better the more they are around, the more they are playing. Travis had the advantage of having nine starts with [Boller] last year, but that has gone by the wayside, so Kyle has got to go out and work with the guys he has confidence in."

Asked if the receivers' lack of working together - especially when contrasted with years of continuity in Cleveland with the trio of Andre' Davis, Quincy Morgan and Dennis Northcutt - is a glaring weakness, Johnson said, "Experience helps, but we'll get there. We're closer than far apart."

Still, it would behoove the Ravens not to have to play from behind in the fourth quarter, especially since the third and fourth receivers - Darling and Clarence Moore - have yet to record their first catches as professionals, and Deion Sanders has not played receiver regularly since 1998.

That leaves tight end Todd Heap, Johnson and Hymes as the legitimate receiving threats. For Hymes, the situation is similar to the last time he was called upon to start, subbing for an injured Brandon Stokley and an ineffective Javin Hunter.

Hymes responded then, averaging 20.5 yards on six catches, and is confident he will now. For Hymes, facing the Steelers is a good place to start.

"I've got a job to do," Hymes said. "I can't go out and hesitate on my job. I've got to do the things Travis was doing before he was injured."

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