Ravens waiting for Taylor to fulfill potential

WESTMINSTER -- Keen eyesight, top-notch concentration, fundamentals and, of course, experience are the hallmarks of catching the football.<br><br> Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Travis Taylor possesses all of those necessary attributes, but hasn't demonstrated them with a high degree of consistency.<br><br>

Taylor is regarded as talented by any measure, enough so that he was drafted with the 10th overall pick of the first round four years ago.

During last year's disappointing season, though, Taylor looked like anything but polished. He slumped to 39 receptions for 632 yards and three touchdowns as the AFC North champions registered the lowest-ranked passing game.

Taylor also dropped a team-high 11 passes to rank second in the AFC in that category behind Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, no relation.

"Just not concentrating, losing focus during the game," said Taylor, who enters his fifth NFL season with 170 career catches for 2,337 yards and 15 touchdowns. "You try not to, but it happens."
Now, a deadline is rapidly approaching for Taylor to fulfill the promise that scouts identified in him at the University of Florida. His contract is up after this season, and it's unclear if the team will retain him or allow him to depart as an unrestricted free agent.

For the past two years, Ravens coach Brian Billick has stressed that it's time for Taylor to get the job done. If the clock was merely ticking before, then the alarm clock is buzzing now.

"Travis and I have had a million conversations about that and we're both on the same page of what this year needs to be for him," quarterbacks and receivers coach David Shaw said. "I think I'll leave it at that."

Taylor hears the message. He acknowledges that he doesn't know if he'll be back, but said he would love to finish his career in Baltimore.

"I'm not really thinking about my contract," Taylor said. "If I make big plays, that will take care of itself."

Beyond catching a 13-yard slant and a 24-yard crossing pattern in Friday night's scrimmage at McDaniel College from second-year quarterback Kyle Boller, there are other encouraging developments surrounding Taylor.

He has the same quarterback for two years in a row for the first time. The Ravens have switched quarterbacks at least twice a year since Billick took over as coach in 1999.

From Scott Mitchell, Stoney Case, Tony Banks, Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham, Chris Redman, Jeff Blake, Boller and Anthony Wright, it has been a revolving door at quarterback.

"I won't say it hurt the passing game, but it gets difficult with two quarterbacks each and every year," said Taylor, who devoted the majority of his off-season to building a connection with Boller. "Having Kyle as our quarterback for the second year is going to definitely bring up the confidence of the offense."

The Ravens moved Taylor back to split end, where he said he feels most comfortable.

And the team traded a fourth-round draft pick for veteran receiver Kevin Johnson. Johnson, who has averaged 66 receptions in five seasons, sets an example of steadiness at flanker. His skills could allow Taylor the freedom to go deep.

"That's why Kevin is here," Shaw said. "He has been a dependable receiver."

A former starter for the Cleveland Browns, Johnson said that Taylor has always had the ability.

"Travis is definitely underrated," Johnson said. "He has a lot of talent, but if you only get the ball thrown to you five times and you catch three, it's looked at badly."

Last season, the Ravens averaged 140.9 passing yards a game on 52.3 percent accuracy while attempting the fewest amount of passes in the NFL. That produced just 2,517 passing yards, 19 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions as Jamal Lewis rushed for a league-high 2,066 yards.

"The past is the past," Shaw said. "Our goal is not just to make big plays. We've been making big plays for years. It's about being consistent."

Taylor has yet to exceed 1,000 yards receiving, catching a career-high 61 passes for 869 yards and six touchdowns in 2002.

An amiable personality, Taylor said he has grown a thick skin to criticism. He's aware that he's a popular target whenever the topic is the Ravens' passing game

"I'm not taking it personal at all," Taylor said. "You can't worry about the critics. At the same time, we know for this team to be successful we have to make some plays outside."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times

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