Jobs On The Line

Receivers Williams, Washington, Harper Need To Show Ability To Separate From Pack

August 29, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- During offseason minicamps, the Ravens' biggest question mark was at wide receiver. Throughout training camp, the doubts persisted with the team's receiving group.

Now, heading into tonight's preseason game at Carolina, the Ravens are demanding some answers. With the starters scheduled to receive their most playing time of the preseason, it's time for their unproven receivers - Demetrius Williams, Kelley Washington and Justin Harper - to prove something.

Their performances could determine whether the Ravens keep this group intact or add a veteran to upgrade it.

"This is a big game for these receivers," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We're looking for production. The Ravens are about production and not potential. The good news is we've got talent. It's my job to bring out the production."

Besides Derrick Mason, the rest of the Ravens' receivers have yet to live up to that potential.

With Mark Clayton (hamstring) out for a third preseason game, none of the other wide-outs have seized the opportunity to catch the coaches' attention. In fact, the Ravens' defense has scored more touchdowns (two) this preseason than the team's receivers (one).

If the Ravens are unsure about this supporting cast, they probably will look elsewhere to boost the talent around quarterback Joe Flacco. Veterans such as the New York Giants' David Tyree or the Philadelphia Eagles' Reggie Brown could be cut before the regular-season opener or perhaps be acquired for a conditional late-round draft pick.

It's the job of Williams, Washington and Harper to convince the Ravens otherwise.

"We always feel like we can be one of the best groups in the NFL," Williams said. "You got to have that confidence when you get on the field. Each one of us has to take pride in the fact that we're going to be the best receivers out there. We're definitely working to it."

Here's how the preseason has played out for those receivers:

* Williams has disappeared in the first two preseason games, making three catches for 31 yards. He started the preseason opener for the injured Clayton but was the No. 3 receiver in the second game. His longest reception was 13 yards.

"I haven't met my expectations," said Williams, who said he is completely healthy after battling heel and hamstring injuries this year. "I set them high. I go out to practice and want to do something better."

* Washington has caught the attention of fans primarily because of his post-catch celebrations. He has caught three of four passes thrown to him, totaling 53 yards. But his lone drop was on a fade route in the end zone.

"Personally, I haven't done anything yet," said Washington, who started the second preseason game. "I am trying to put together some good practices, show some good film in the preseason and let the coaches here determine how I fit into the offense."

* Harper leads the Ravens in receptions (six). But he likely leads them in drops, too. Harper could be the big downfield target that the team needs. His inconsistency, though, puts him on the roster bubble.

"On a scale of 100, I'm not even giving myself a 50," Harper said. "I got a lot of work to do. But the drops are behind me."

The drops by the receivers have been the most frustrating trend in the first two preseason games.

It's a major reason why Flacco and Troy Smith have combined to complete just 48.6 percent of their passes (35 of 72). Last season, the Ravens completed 60.3 percent of their throws.

"They're doing a lot of good things, but I want to see them catch the ball all the time," coach John Harbaugh said of his receivers. "Catch every single pass that's thrown to you and a lot of good things are going to happen. If you drop one, come back and catch the next one."

The Ravens have seen similar flashes from their second-tier receivers: Jayson Foster, Ernie Wheelwright and Yamon Figurs. But periodic success isn't going to help the Ravens improve on last season's No. 28 passing attack.

"I've seen some guys go out there and show they can play in this league," Mason said. "But in this league, it's got to be consistent. I think that's what we're trying to become: a consistent group of wide receivers."

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