Close fight for Ravens' third receiver spot

WESTMINSTER -- The battle to emerge as the Baltimore Ravens' third wide receiver is shrouded by unremarkable performances that haven't defined who should win the job.

If this trend continues, the decision will likely require a photo finish that won't be judged until the end of the preseason.

To choose between promising rookie Devard Darling, surgically-repaired veteran Randy Hymes and former fourth-round draft pick Ron Johnson, the coaching staff may have to rely on more than analysis of preseason games.

It might take their best hunch, another perusal of practice films and gauging who has the most special-teams skills.

"It's really close right now," quarterbacks and receivers coach David Shaw said. "Randy is in the race, as are Devard, Clarence Moore and Kareem Kelly. We're going to try to use these next few games to see who comes out on top.

"They're all good athletes, they've all made plays and they are making this a hard decision for us, and that's good. That's exactly the kind of competition we wanted to have."

The Ravens' 26-17 loss Friday night to the Philadelphia Eagles didn't create any apparent delineation among the receivers behind starters Kevin Johnson and Travis Taylor, either.

Hymes caught one pass for 12 yards. Darling caught one pass for seven yards. Ron Johnson was shut out.

"Right now, I'm just trying to focus on making the team," Hymes said. "Who becomes the third wide receiver is a big deal. We need someone to come in and help out Travis and Kevin."

Darling is the only candidate who has drawn a start. He began the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons because of a groin injury to split end.

However, the fleet third-round draft pick didn't catch a pass in that 24-0 victory as two of his chances for receptions hit the ground on errant throws from Kyle Boller.

Darling has made an impression with his hands and routes, though.

"Devard is young, but he's not young," Shaw said. "He's been through a lot in his life. He's mature and he's mentally and physically ready to play at this level."

Johnson, a burly special-teams standout who's by far the strongest wide receiver on the team, caught one pass for seven yards against the Falcons. His 10-yard touchdown was disallowed by instant replay because officials ruled that his knee was out of bounds when he caught the football.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder has a history of excelling during the preseason, but was limited to one reception for 12 yards last season as he battled knee problems. He underwent corrective eye surgery during the off-season and now has 20-20 vision.

As a rookie, Johnson struggled with his hands in four starts and was limited to 10 catches for 114 yards and one touchdown.

This summer, Johnson has been solid again and is once again on several special-teams units. He said he doesn't feel overshadowed by the new additions to the receiving corps.

"I don't look at it like that," he said. "I think it's going to be a battle, period."

Hymes, didn't catch a pass against Atlanta as Boller underthrew him.

Kelly returned three kickoffs for 47 yards against Philadelphia and caught one pass for 12 yards against Atlanta. The 6-6 Moore has yet to catch a pass in two games.

The coaching staff has made it unequivocally clear that the preseason games will be the primary barometer for deciding this key position battle.

"I wouldn't know what else you base it on simply because that's your purest form for evaluation because it's legitimate competition," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Hymes is a converted quarterback from Grambling who opened eyes two years ago with an acrobatic, one-handed reception against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"I'm feeling like I'm 99.9 percent," said Hymes, who has excellent size and leaping ability at 6-3, 211 pounds. "I don't think about my knee anymore. Out of habit, I look at it sometimes, but I feel fine."

As for Darling, he accelerates as fast as any of the Ravens' wideouts and he rarely drops a pass in practice.

However, he has been dealing with a nagging quadriceps injury that kept him out of Sunday morning's practice at McDaniel College. Billick said the injury has complicated his otherwise-optimistic view on the rookie from Washington State.

"I'm trying to get better everyday and I'm picking up the offense pretty good," Darling said. "Of course, I want to make more big plays."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

Ravens Insider Top Stories