Ravens add fuel to pass attack

With Mason, pressure mounts on Billick, Boller

`Not much more you can ask for' Pro Football

March 04, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

As wide receiver Derrick Mason signed his five-year contract with the Ravens yesterday, the writing might as well have been on the wall for coach Brian Billick and quarterback Kyle Boller.

The addition of the "one extra piece" to their passing attack now removes all excuses.

Without a premier receiver, the Ravens had reason to struggle mightily throwing the ball, finishing 27th (2002), 32nd (2003) and 31st (2004) over the past three seasons in passing.

Now the Ravens' offense, which will be directed by new coordinator Jim Fassel, has the look of one on the verge of a breakout season. The Ravens' attack can head into the season laying claim to the top pass-catching wide receiver in the NFL last season (Mason) and possibly three of the best at their positions in tight end Todd Heap, left tackle Jonathan Ogden and running back Jamal Lewis.

"We hope we're working toward orchestrating the perfect storm, so to speak, in terms of everything coming together, including Kyle's maturity," Billick said. "Kyle is our leader offensively. [Being] the young, improving [quarterback], that's all behind. We trust him in where he's at in his development and what he needs to do for this offense. First, getting pieces back to him that were missing last year, and now adding to the puzzle for him is going to do nothing but enhance his abilities."

The pressure will be on Boller to use all the talent around him.

Last season, his second as a starter, his main problem remained consistency. Boller threw for 154 yards or fewer in half of his starts. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes three times and connected on fewer than 53 percent six times.

But those performances came with Heap hobbled with an injured ankle, Lewis distracted by his legal problems and receiver Travis Taylor stuck in a career-long slump.

"It's time for our offense to take that next step," Boller said. "Our new offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, a healthy Todd Heap and now Derrick Mason are all going to help. There's not much more you can ask for. You just have to go out there and do it."

Mason's reputation of 90-plus catches the past two seasons, Boller said, will force teams to play the Ravens differently.

"Defenses then aren't going to be able to drop that eighth or ninth man in the box," Boller said. "They have to worry about Derrick Mason on the outside and Todd Heap over the middle. I think we'll get the ball to Derrick a whole lot."

There has been talk about how Boller will adjust to Mason's size (5 feet 10).

It seemed Boller had better runs of success with taller targets like Clarence Moore and Randy Hymes than he did overall with the smaller Kevin Johnson, who did finish as the team's leading receiver.

"Obviously, tall guys are easier to throw to," Boller said. "But I don't think that's going to be a problem once I get my timing down with Derrick. I expect to work on throwing to him a lot this offseason."

The acquisition of Mason likely will have a major impact on the Ravens' draft plans.

Originally, it was believed that the Ravens would trade up from No. 22 to pick one of the top three receivers. But general manager Ozzie Newsome said it might be the other way around now.

"My preference, based on going through the series of meetings and being at the combine, is we may be more apt to move back and acquire more picks," Newsome said. "We think this draft is as good a draft as far as depth that we've had in the last four or five years."

Newsome also didn't dismiss signing another veteran receiver, perhaps as the No. 3 wide-out behind Mason and Clarence Moore. The Ravens could look at a free agent like Joey Galloway, Cedrick Wilson or Ike Hilliard, who was cut by the New York Giants yesterday and who once played for Fassel.

"If someone else becomes available that we think can come in and contribute," Newsome said, "we'll sign him."

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