Johnson looking to rebound from rough first season

<p>Ron Johnson collided with that figurative rookie wall last season for a resounding impact. During an acute crisis of confidence, Johnson literally became the Baltimore Ravens' undisputed leader in the category of dropped passes. Despite the accuracy of the spirals, the imposing receiver was plagued too often by the football skipping off his outstretched hands.&nbsp;</p>

Afterward, Johnson stared at his gloves as if they had somehow betrayed him. By the end of the campaign, any discussion regarding Johnson's stellar preseason and fast initial start had become an afterthought for the former fourth-round draft pick from Minnesota. Now, Johnson, 24, appears to have regained his fundamentals through countless hours of drills and is in the midst of another training camp where he' leads the Ravens in receptions and yards. 

During the Ravens' 13-10 victory Saturday over the Atlanta Falcons, Johnson caught four passes for 108 yards for an average of 27 yards per reception in setting up two scoring drives. If Johnson had executed better and not experienced memory lapses on alignment and route-running, there's no telling what sort of performance he could have had. "When Ron can remember what to do, he's going to be pretty good," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's the next step for him." Still, the game was generally a positive development for Johnson in an ongoing competition with Randy Hymes for the Ravens' fourth receiver spot after Travis Taylor, Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson. In the second half, Johnson sprinted downfield for a 46-yard catch-and-run from rookie quarterback Kyle Boller that set up tight end Terry Jones' touchdown. 

On the ensuing series for Baltimore in the third quarter, Johnson drew a defensive pass interference penalty before catching a 41-yard pass from Boller. Four plays later, Matt Stover kicked a field goal. However, Johnson occasionally lined up wrong, failed to recognize coverage schemes and, consequently, became the recipient of a loud lecture from Billick. "Mentally, I had a lot of mess-ups and I've got a long way to go," Johnson said. "I'm a lot better than that, and it could have been a lot bigger game. That's just a learning experience. "I had a good game, but I have to build on it. There are a lot of little things I shouldn't have done."

 Johnson estimated that there were at least four plays that could have boosted his total into a 200-yard performance. For example, he wasn't lined up correctly in terms of where he was supposed to be in relation to the hash marks on one route. Johnson accepts the criticism from Billick as legitimate, saying he deserved to be scolded. "I expect that," Johnson said. "I expect better out of myself. I'm harder on myself than anybody else. I want to make sure the quarterback knows I'm going to be there. "We shouldn't have that indecision. I need to know what I'm running." 

Accountability isn't the issue, and neither is talent. Baltimore quarterbacks and receivers coach David Shaw has consistently lauded Johnson for his size (6-foot-2, 225 pounds), strength (bench presses 365 pounds) ability to run after the catch and downfield blocking. Yet, the rookie slump limited him to 10 catches for 114 yards and one touchdown. That score came on his first NFL reception in the season-opener to the Car olina Panthers. Johnson didn't score again until he scooped up a blocked punt for a touchdown in December against the Cincinnati Bengals

After dedicating himself this spring and summer to working on the Jugs machine that fires footballs at him back at the Ravens' training complex, Johnson said he's no longer concerned about his ability to secure a pass. "I know I can catch the ball," Johnson said. "It's about doing the little things: concentrating on the ball, seeing it, catching it then tucking it away and running with the ball. Just taking those steps and not doing one before the other." Johnson leads the Ravens with eight receptions for 139 yards through two preseason contests. It's eerily similar to last summer when he led the Ravens with 13 receptions for 170 yards and one touchdown. Will Johnson's August exploits translate into consistent production this fall? "I think no matter where you are you're going to have competition and I like to step up to the challenge," Johnson said. "I want to take every opportunity I get so whenever the ball is in my area: catch it."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times

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