Ravens receiving corps is grabbing good reviews

Moore, Hymes, Mason, P. Johnson making plays

August 12, 2005|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Shortly after the Ravens finished a recent practice, with his squad a little too peppy over what happened on the football field, receivers coach David Shaw stepped away from his normally positive and supportive personality to become the team killjoy.

Rather than slap high-fives and give pats on the back to his receivers, Shaw felt the need to bring the group together for a little tough love. Yes, the three touchdowns combined with a couple of other long gains during practice against a secondary that features four former Pro Bowl players was good, but perspective was needed.

Or maybe straight-up pragmatism.

"We got together afterward and were all excited," Shaw recalled. "But I said, `What are we excited about? That should be our standard. Our standard is excellence, and when we play up to that standard, that's what we should expect.'"

Associating "excellence" with the Ravens' receivers may have drawn laughs in previous years, but the corps has shown nothing less than that through the first two weeks of training camp.

This camp has featured precisely-run routes, diving catches and, most importantly, more separation from the defensive backs.

Whether that will continue tomorrow against the Atlanta Falcons in a preseason game is another story, but it is hard to find fault with the red zone play from Clarence Moore and Randy Hymes and the overall play from Derrick Mason and Patrick Johnson during practices.

"We've got a lot of guys playing real well across the board," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "All the way down, everybody is making plays. They're focused. I like the group."

Johnson's resurgence might be the biggest shocker. In his third stint with the Ravens, he caught the team's lone touchdown in the scrimmage against the Washington Redskins last week and has maintained that momentum with a couple of long grabs this week.

He has made a strong push to not only make the team - which was a long shot before camp started - but to possibly be part of the rotation at the fourth spot when the season opens.

It is Johnson's chance to rewrite the history he has carved with the Ravens as one of the team's biggest draft disappointments. Johnson, who has 24 catches over the past three seasons, also has spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals.

"For me, a lot has changed. My perspective of the game has changed," said Johnson, a second-round pick in 1998. "The amount of patience I need to have has changed. If you would have asked me if my career had gone the way it has gone when I was drafted by the Ravens, I wouldn't have believed it."

The other receivers have noticed Johnson beating coverage with regularity and catching nearly everything thrown at him.

If Johnson keeps on, that might cut into the playing time of Moore, Mark Clayton, Devard Darling or Hymes, but support among the receivers is unwavering.

"You can't get down when you see your teammate make a nice grab," Moore said. "You have to take it in stride, congratulate him and know that you have to go out there and do the same thing.

"We know Mason has his spot locked down. But Randy, Devard, we all just want to continue to give them a reason to put us all on the field."

The Ravens are expected to use more three- and four-receiver sets under new coordinator Jim Fassel, which should help better the individual output from last year, when no receiver had more than 35 catches.

That number, though, came from a corps led by Travis Taylor and Kevin Johnson, neither of whom is on the team. Shaw declared Mason a bona fide star and said his impact has elevated the level of the entire receiving corps, which is at least through the opening weeks of training camp.

"We're still all about the games," Shaw said. "I don't want to be one of those teams that looks good in the offseason, then doesn't in the preseason. We need to carry our offseason work into the preseason: live game situations that are very valuable to gain more experience and get used to each other making more plays."

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