Receivers aren't Ravens' problem, but might be big part of solution

October 15, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Coincidental, isn't it, that the Ravens this afternoon face a team featuring Keyshawn Johnson, veteran wide receiver and contributor to the American canon, with the epic Just Give Me the Damn Ball!

There isn't a wide receiver contingent in the NFL less likely to bark out something like that than the Ravens'. These guys are refreshingly diva-free. But even if they don't bark it, they're definitely whispering it.

Wide receiver is far down the list of issues the sluggish offense has to address as the Ravens face the Carolina Panthers today. The quarterbacking is a problem, and so is the running game, and the offensive line has not stopped being a problem for more than a year.

However, all of that has contributed to the wide-outs being left out. None of Steve McNair's five touchdown passes has gone to a wide receiver. Balls don't go downfield often. The big plays that can come out of short passes haven't happened yet. The talk of finding creative ways to break them free in the open field has been just talk.

Figuratively and literally, Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams - and Devard Darling when he plays - have been running to nowhere. Clarence Moore at least had gotten a look in the end zone, but he was cut yesterday.

It's going to be hard to fix all that without having fixed everything else. That doesn't mean the receivers in question are enjoying it. And they probably won't enjoy seeing the Panthers take shots (if and when the Ravens' defense lets them) downfield at Johnson and Steve Smith today - and hearing them talk about it afterward, because neither is terribly shy.

The Ravens, then, should be thankful that Mason and Co. don't crave cameras and microphones - or shelf space at Borders - the same way they crave touches.

Mason is quiet by nature, and by any measure he has been a quiet presence since arriving here. On the other hand, he has never been silent and has gained enormous respect for his leadership and the strength of his convictions. The other receivers, all youngsters, look up to him - and let him do the talking, particularly on this subject.

So, he does.

Mason is the one who started giving grades for the offense after the Week 2 win over the Oakland Raiders. There have been no passing grades. That continued Monday night in Denver: "You know what kind this one gets. It's the same as always. It's not getting better," he said.

"We're missing one facet of our game: the wide-outs. Why, I don't know, but we have to try to find a way to score," he added. "We're only going to get so many chances; we have to make the best of them. It has to change, but as of now, it hasn't."

After two days of cooling off from the heat of a bitter loss, Mason was asked Wednesday if he still felt discouraged.

"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?" he said. "For me to sit here and say I'm OK with the direction the offense has been going the last five weeks, just because two days have passed, that would be crazy."

Mason makes a point to not point fingers - and, to be clear as to his longtime connection to McNair, he studiously avoided singling out Kyle Boller last year. He chose not to make any digs at the coaches ("You're all trying to get me to point the finger at the offensive coordinator, aren't you?" he cracked). And he stood up for McNair, even while acknowledging that he probably isn't settled into the offensive scheme yet.

Unfortunately, it's a chicken-or-egg problem. Will getting Mason and his mates involved more open things up for the running game, which badly needs opening up? Or will the receivers have to wait for the running game to hit the proper gear to make things easier for them?

Either way, the Ravens have said since the summer that the parts are all there to have an offense that clicks, and they weren't blowing smoke. Plenty of teams would envy the starting pair of Mason and Clayton. Yet except for the rallies against the Browns and Chargers, they've been all but invisible throughout the games, and in those games, they reappeared only down the stretch.

The easy way is to blame McNair; it's much harder to pinpoint anyone or anything specific. The hardest of all is to acknowledge that everybody is underperforming, and that weapons are being wasted.

Mason, however, doesn't waste words, flinging them about as if he gets a bonus per comment, as certain NFL receivers do. He tends not to talk unless he has something to say. For the good of the team, he's talking about feeling left out.

The solution, then, is to get him and his position mates back in. Just give them ... oh, you know the rest.

david.steele@baltsun.com

David Steele -- Points After

Not to butt heads with a colleague, but aren't the Orioles already finishing in fourth place every year with an All-Star and former Most Valuable Player at shortstop? But if Alex Rodriguez can get the bullpen to Chris Ray, then let's get it done.

On that subject, let's fantasize that Alfonso Soriano rejected $14 million a year from the Washington Nationals because there's a better offer dangling out there. Just up the road. From a team desperately needing a left fielder. Go ahead, fantasize.

Maryland is still in the Atlantic Coast Conference football race, and that says all you need to know about ACC football this year.

It's not immediately obvious why the defending national champion Maryland women were the warm-up act for the men at Comcast Center on Friday night. Besides the likelihood that Gary Williams' head would blow all the way to the roof, that is.

Much like in the summer of 1979, New York Yankees jokes just aren't as much fun to make right now.

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