Ravens' Johnson, Hunter on comeback trail

OWINGS MILLS - Whenever Ron Johnson witnesses films from the second half of last season, he has alternating feelings of regret and hunger. The Baltimore Ravens' second-year wide receiver keeps recalling the breakdown in fundamentals and confidence that caused an inordinate amount of drops. It was a classic rookie slump.

And it makes Johnson especially eager for this season to begin as the Ravens enter their final day of passing camp this morning.

"I got real frustrated because I can see all the times I relaxed, or my hands weren't where they were supposed to be," said Johnson, an imposing target at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds who ended last season on the bench. "I saw touchdowns in my head before I had them. "I've got my confidence back. Mistakes will happen. Now, I'm working to earn their trust back so they know that every time I get the ball I will make something happen."

However, there are few mulligans in the NFL. It's a league where success is based heavily on timing.

Factoring in the presence of veterans Frank Sanders, Marcus Robinson and Travis Taylor and the development of former Grambling quarterback Randy Hymes, there may not be as many opportunities for Johnson and fellow wideout Javin Hunter.

The line at receiver keeps growing.

"I told them last year was like a little bit of a fairytale," Ravens quarterbacks and receivers coach David Shaw said. "We kept all those guys together and let them sink or swim, succeed or fail. We kept teaching them. "This is a new year, we have a couple of vets and these guys are fighting for jobs."

Hunter missed the final four games of his rookie season due to a league-mandated suspension after testing positive for ephedrine, a banned substance. So, he missed a golden opportunity to start with Brandon Stokley on injured reserve.

"That was a big disappointment," Hunter said. "It was unexpected, but I look forward to making a lot of plays this year."

Drafted in the fourth round out of Minnesota last spring, Johnson started four games and finished with 10 receptions for 114 yards and one touchdown. Johnson began the year with a lot of promise after a strong training camp. During the preseason, he actually caught 13 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown to lead the team in catches and yards. Johnson's first NFL catch went for a touchdown in the season's opening game against the Carolina Panthers.

By the end of the season, though, he was relegated to reserve duty.

One particularly rough game for Johnson came in a loss to the New Orleans Saints when he didn't catch a single pass as several spirals deflected off his hands.

"Ron hit that rookie slump about midseason, but we're still expecting a lot from him," Shaw said. "He's strong, physical and quick and has been a playmaker throughout his college career and preseason last year."

Johnson is Minnesota's all-time leader with 198 receptions, 3,039 yards and 31 touchdowns. He averaged 15.3 yards per catch in college. This year, he hopes to benefit from the knowledge of Sanders and Robinson.

"These are guys I watched in high school and college who have been in the league for years, where I'm trying to get, and I'm actually playing with them now," Johnson said. "When they say, 'This is right,' or, 'This is wrong,' it means a lot to me. That's a big reason why I'm so excited about this season. "Definitely, it's a fresh start."

In Hunter's case, he remains a top candidate for special-teams duty as one of the fastest players on the team. Last year, Hunter caught five passes for 35 yards, drawing more notice for a 63-yard kickoff return on a lateral against the Indianapolis Colts.

"My role is still to be seen, because we have a lot of veterans," Hunter said. "I'd like to have more than one of those returns this year."

At Notre Dame, Hunter flashed big-play potential in the Fighting Irish's run-oriented offense. And he caught eight passes for 95 yards and a touchdown last preseason.

Now, Hunter is trying to make up for the ground he lost with the suspension. "Yeah, missing those games cost Javin a little bit, but I also think it motivated him," Shaw said. "He has come back with the right attitude. He doesn't think anything is owed to him and he's showing a lot of speed and explosiveness."

NOTE: Rookies Terrell Suggs, Gerome Sapp, Ovie Mughelli returned to drills after missing the previous two practice session due to an NFL rule dictating that first-year players may not attend team camps while their colleges are still in session.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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