Ravens' Johnson primed to face his old team

OWINGS MILLS - Kevin Johnson is simultaneously overjoyed to play for the Baltimore Ravens and offended by how Cleveland Browns management did all they could to tarnish his reputation.<br><br> Not only did the Browns release their all-time leading receiver after nine games last season, but former executive Carmen Policy and current coach Butch Davis added insults to his sudden unemployment.

Once a popular figure in Cleveland, Johnson was condemned for allegedly being selfish, unwilling to block and preoccupied with his statistics. He vigorously refutes the critics.

Now, the Ravens' new flanker gets his chance for a rebuttal Sunday in the season-opener as he heads into Cleveland Browns Stadium for the first time on the opposing sideline. Johnson says this is just another football game, but his body language and statements tell a different tale.

"Coach Davis is doing what Coach Davis wants to do, and he and I never saw eye to eye," said Johnson, who caught 315 career passes and 23 touchdowns for the Browns after becoming their second overall pick in their inaugural 1999 season. "I was always looked at as a guy who was a problem guy. I hate that my character was questioned.

"I think the guys knew I was never mean to anyone and I was always on time. I led the team every single year since I had been there, so make a better excuse for reasons why I was released."

The Ravens obtained Johnson, who has averaged 66 receptions a season, on draft day from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fourth-round draft pick.

Since arriving in Baltimore, he's earned a reputation as a model intermediate target and a positive, hard-working locker room presence.

"Kevin has fit in really well," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He's been exactly what we hoped he would be: a strong possession receiver with a passion for the game."

For Johnson, this is an opportunity to play for a defending division champion with Super Bowl aspirations. It's a far cry from his Cleveland days. Although he started 72 games, he usually lost.

Johnson joins former Cleveland teammates Corey Fuller and Orlando Brown in Baltimore and terms his shift in the AFC North as 10 steps forward after taking two steps back.

"It's just a great situation to be, whereas in Cleveland we were a bad team," Johnson said. "Let's just be bluntly honest. We were a bad team trying to find our identity, trying to win games and just trying to see if we could win.

"This is a totally different situation. It's just a blessing in disguise."
Johnson joked that he might have to send Davis a Christmas card for cutting him loose.

It's obvious that the veteran receiver hasn't forgotten or forgiven Davis for their divorce. He even criticized Davis for parting with quarterback Tim Couch.

"He's let a lot of popular and good guys go for whatever reason and he thinks he has better players," Johnson said. "I wasn't good enough because I guess I wasn't built like Tarzan, but I didn't play like Jane, either.

"It was just one of those things where he came in with a college mentality and that's not the NFL. Guys here are grown men."

Johnson was added to boost the consistency of the lowest-ranked passing game in the NFL from last season. He led the Ravens in the preseason with nine receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown.

And he's seeking his 80th consecutive game with a reception while paired opposite Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon, another old friend.

"A lot of those guys, I'm very close to so it's going to be one of those bittersweet games," Johnson said. "I had a great relationship with the fans, so I feel the fans won't be hard on me at all. I'm sure they're going to be excited for me to come back there even though I'm with Baltimore."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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