Ravens' receiving corps remains in flux

OWINGS MILLS – Even with his surgically-enhanced eyesight and ideal vantage point, Ron Johnson isn't granted the clearest picture of the Baltimore Ravens' receiving corps.<br><br> It's admittedly a fairly cloudy view except for the fact that Travis Taylor and Kevin Johnson are established as the starters at split end and flanker. <br>

However, the pecking order behind those two downfield targets remains a fluid situation for the lowest-ranked passing game in the league last season because of past injuries, middling performances and newcomers' potential.

"We've got a gang of them," quarterbacks and receivers coach David Shaw said Wednesday at a passing camp that concludes today. "We're going to shake it up, let them all play and see who survives at the end."

Randy Hymes, Ron Johnson and rookie Devard Darling are vying for significant repetitions behind the starters. Plus, rookie Clarence Moore along with Javin Hunter, Kareem Kelly and a few others are fighting for a spot in a tight roster decision likely to be predicated by special-teams skills.

Ravens coach Brian Billick said he envisions keeping four to five receivers on the final roster, adding that six might be a prohibitive number.

Hymes is the primary reserve at split end and is nearly fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery after missing all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. 

A converted quarterback from Grambling who features above-average size, speed and leaping ability, the 6-foot-3, 211-pound Hymes demonstrated flashes as an undrafted rookie. 

"I don't look at it as a battle, I just call it competition," said Hymes, who estimated the capabilities of his knee at 85 percent and has been advised on what to expect from his recovery by Ravens running back Jamal Lewis and former Grambling quarterback Doug Williams. "If you want to be on the team, you had better compete.

"I'm tired of everybody talking about the receiving corps and who are the receivers for the Ravens. I don't feel any pressure at all. I just want to come in and contribute."

Hymes was particularly impressive in the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers two years ago in one of his two rookie starts. He caught two passes for 76 yards, including an acrobatic one-handed reception to gain 33 yards.

"If he can elevate himself back up to that level, that would be great for all of us," Shaw said.

Billick said he's pleased with Hymes' progress from rehabilitation, especially his resiliency after three days of practice.

"He seems strong," Billick said.

A fourth-round draft pick from Minnesota two years ago, Johnson is the backup flanker who caught one pass last season during a disappointing year affected by arthroscopic knee surgery.

The strongman of the receivers at nearly 230 pounds with a bench press of 370 pounds, Johnson is capable of overpowering defensive backs with his upper-body strength. Now, he has 20-20 vision after undergoing Lasix eye surgery.

"I think his confidence, consistency is improved," Billick said. "I think he's had a great off-season. He's got a physicality that few receivers have. It really is a matter of confidence for him"

Johnson appeared to lose belief in his skills during a frustrating rookie season plagued by several dropped passes. 

Impressive performances in preseason games and training camps haven't translated into much in the way of regular-season production. Johnson has a total of 11 catches and one touchdown through two seasons.

He said he doesn't feel overshadowed by the new additions at receiver.

"I don't look at it like that," he said. "Talking to Billick, I think my size is my biggest thing. I'm strong. I'm almost as big as Todd Heap. I think it's going to be a battle, period."

Darling is the Ravens' third-round draft pick from Washington State. Shaw said he has adjusted well to the velocity of quarterback Kyle Boller's passes. 

And the rookie represents somewhat of a hybrid between the bulk of Johnson, Hymes' vertical leap and Taylor's speed.

"Devard can do a little bit of everything," Shaw said. "He's got the long speed. He's got the size and strength and has the leaping ability. He hasn't dropped a pass yet. 

"He has a legitimate chance. If he can elevate that and play at this level, the sky's the limit for him."

NOTE: Taylor was excused Wednesday for personal reasons involving his mother and Billick said it's uncertain whether he'll attend today's final practice session.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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