Hymes making deep impact

He's Ravens' top receiver, but may not be starter when Taylor comes back

September 28, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Randy Hymes has more catches than any other Ravens wide-out this season, has the most receiving yards on the team and has its only touchdown through the air.

The only target that has eluded his grasp is a permanent starting job.

Hymes has started the past two games for the injured Travis Taylor and has capitalized on the opportunity to develop into the Ravens' most consistent downfield option, pulling in 12 catches for 124 yards. His 38-yard touchdown catch in Sunday's 23-9 win over Cincinnati is the Ravens' only score in 74 pass attempts.

Team officials, though, are not guaranteeing Hymes a spot in the starting lineup once Taylor returns. Taylor, who aggravated a groin injury in the season opener, is expected to come back for the Oct. 24 game against Buffalo.

"Randy has earned the right to be part of our offense in one form or another," coach Brian Billick said. "But it's way too early to give any kind of thought of who's starting and who's not. We'd love to have Travis back, but we're far enough away from it that I'm not going to concern myself with having too many good receivers now."

A likely scenario is starting Taylor and Kevin Johnson while using Hymes in three-receiver formations and inside the red zone. Taylor and Johnson are known for creating separation from defensive backs more often than Hymes.

But no receiver has made more of an impact in the first month of the season than Hymes, an undrafted rookie free agent in 2002 who missed all of last season with a knee injury.

In each of the first three games, Hymes has used his height (6 feet 3) and athleticism to catch at least three passes and produce a reception of 14 or more yards. In fact, his totals this season are more than those of the other four wide-outs combined: Johnson (seven catches for 75 yards), Devard Darling (two for 5 yards), Clarence Moore (one for 6 yards) and Taylor (one for 5 yards).

Hymes would have had a 39-yard touchdown off a flea flicker in Week 2 against Pittsburgh if not for Johnson getting penalized for illegal motion. On Sunday, he officially recorded his first career touchdown, making a 13-yard catch on a curl route and running 25 yards to the end zone. He also made a one-handed grab on a pass that sailed behind him earlier in that game.

"Randy is one of the guys that's still learning every time he steps on the field," Billick said. "He's becoming more and more disciplined. He and Kyle [Boller] are developing more of a relationship, which is important. He's becoming slowly the guy we have to go to on the outside, particularly in light of Travis Taylor and Todd Heap being out."

Heap, the team's leading receiver the past two seasons, is considered doubtful for Monday night's game against Kansas City with an ankle injury and probably won't return until after the bye against Buffalo.

The Pro Bowl tight end still has swelling after spraining the lower part of his ankle on Sept. 19.

"I'm not to the point where I want to rush it," Heap said. "I can't stand sitting and watching those games. But there's no point going in there and making it worse. I want to make sure it's the right time."

Without Heap and Taylor the past two games, Boller has bolted out of the pocket more frequently for the NFL's 31st-ranked passing attack (out of 32 teams). The second-year starting quarterback has taken few risks in throwing the ball (completing 58.1 percent of his passes) and has chosen to run rather than force the ball into coverage.

His scrambles have been just as effective (5.3 yards per carry) as his throws (5.6 yards per attempt), making him the AFC's top rushing quarterback. The only concern is his ability to hold onto the ball after losing eight fumbles in 12 career starts.

"Kyle has reminded me of Mark Brunell with some of the athletic skills," Billick said. "That's one of the things that drew us to Kyle. He can run the ball very intelligently, not withstanding the fumble, and knows when to get down and when the alleys tend to show up vs. certain coverages. That's another part of the puzzle for us."

The Ravens' players will have the next two days off before starting their preparation for the Chiefs on Thursday. But Billick's message throughout the week will be not to underestimate winless Kansas City.

"You're going to see a desperate team and that's the most dangerous kind. They will do anything to get back into it," Billick said. "To think you're going to casually put a Dick Vermeil team at 0-4 is not going to happen. So, we're going to have the fight of our lives."

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