Ravens' offense will remain run-oriented

OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens called a series of audibles during the NFL draft in an attempt to breathe life into a dormant passing game.<br><br> Hello, Kevin Johnson and Devard Darling.<br>

The receivers' arrival comes months after the nullified trade for All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens and the departure of Marcus Robinson. Not to mention a proposed deal for Dennis Northcutt reaching an impasse.

The acquisitions of Johnson and Darling via trade and a third-round draft pick, respectively, were made to address the lowest-ranked passing game in the league from last season.

Now that they're here, though, it's unlikely that the profile of the Ravens' top-ranked rushing offense is in store for a dramatic change.

"Certainly, it's a more realistic expectation that we will have more balance," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think it's important to stay true to the personality of your football team. For us, that's running the ball and playing good defense.

"We know we have to get better at throwing the ball, but it's hard for me to think we're going to stray too far from what we are. You do what your talent dictates. I don't think a throwing team is who we are right now. A lot will depend on the growth of Kyle Boller."

Running back Jamal Lewis, who gained a league-high 2,066 yards last season, will remain the focal point of the offense. And Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap will be complemented by Johnson, incumbent Travis Taylor and Darling.

Still, offensive progress will primarily be determined by Boller, whom general manager Ozzie Newsome drafted in the first round a year ago after trading this year's first-round pick.

Last season, Boller compiled a 5-4 mark as a starter before tearing a quadriceps. Anthony Wright went 5-2 the rest of the way as Baltimore won its first division title.

Boller completed 51.8 percent of his passes last year for 1,260 yards, seven touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 62.4 quarterback rating.

"This is Kyle's year that he has to prove what he can do," Heap said. "Now, it's up to Kyle to take the reins and really, if he stays healthy this year, show what he can do."

The addition of Johnson, 27, could help matters. He has career totals of 332 catches, 4,089 yards and 24 touchdowns. After a nasty divorce with the Cleveland Browns, he finished the season with the Jaguars and totaled 58 passes for 634 yards and three scores. 

"Leave it to Ozzie, everybody is wondering if we're going to get a receiver, what's going to happen on draft day, and all of a sudden they come up with this one," Heap said of Johnson. "He's going to help us a lot."

However, Billick stressed that Johnson's arrival doesn't change things dramatically. Not until the passing game gains a lot of rhythm and confidence.

"Whatever success we have throwing the ball, it's my job to make sure that we keep that in perspective of winning football games," Billick said.

Last season, Baltimore finished 10-6 overall, but averaged 141.3 yards passing per contest.

Meanwhile, a Lewis-led running game averaged 166.8 yards a game. He finished with the second-best rushing season ever behind Eric Dickerson.

"Our problem offensively, even though we've had a certain level of success, is we've been too heavy-handed one way or the other," Billick said. "When we've run the ball very well, we have lacked the balance and explosiveness in the passing game.

"We keep coming back to the concept that there has to be an equitable balance for us to be good."

With the Ravens' returning receivers' combined statistics of 54 receptions and three touchdowns last season, significant change could be afoot.

Returning players such as veteran Frank Sanders (14 receptions in 2003, $2 million base salary for 2004), could be in trouble. Not to mention former fourth-round pick Ron Johnson, who caught one pass last year.

"This will be the most competitive receiving camp we've ever had and probably the most 

talented receiving camp we've ever had," Billick said.

Regardless, Billick said the team is preparing for a cautious balancing act.

"If we throw the ball appreciably better, then obviously we're going to run the ball less," he said. "If we do throw the ball more, it's because we're productive and winning games. We have to be very careful that we don't become enamored with it to the point where we're not doing what we do best."

NOTE: Billick said that rookie return specialist Derek Abney, a seventh-round pick, will need to forge a place on the roster as a reserve receiver to beat out Lamont Brightful. Brightful is a reserve defensive back.

"If Abney is going to supplant him, he's going to have to show us some productivity on offense," Billick said. "That makes it easier to put him on the 45-man roster."

Aaron Wilson also writes for the Carroll County Times.

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