It's time for Taylor to realize potential

Travis Taylor is barely cognizant of critics' whispers. The Baltimore Ravens' wide receiver is too serene to truly be affected by the impatient chorus of talk radio, a hyperactive world that debates his worth and checks his progress constantly. Searching his soul for answers would be his last resort.

"Everybody talks about this and that, but our main job is to win games," Taylor said. "My attitude toward myself is to do the best I can. I have my goals set high and I plan on going out and getting them."

As the Ravens begin their season this afternoon against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., they also start a fall of reliance on Taylor in his third year in the NFL. As Ravens coach Brian Billick said about Taylor, 24, during minicamp: "It's time."

Without Qadry Ismail and Shannon Sharpe, Taylor has become the Ravens' primary target in the passing game. Taylor insists that's a shared burden, but the Ravens have made it clear they need him to emerge from the shadows.

Expectations, including Taylor's, have reached a zenith because of several reasons.

Taylor has the requisite physical attributes at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds with soft, albeit inconsistent hands.

Taylor is intelligent and articulate enough to instruct other offensive players on their assignments.

Taylor left the University of Florida as a junior with an impeccable reputation, good enough for Ravens executive Ozzie Newsome to select him with the 10th overall pick of the 2000 NFL Draft. The Ravens banked on Taylor's ability and career totals of 72 receptions for 1,150 yards and 15 touchdowns not being mere byproducts of Steve Spurrier's Fun ‘N' Gun offense.

 Taylor has already demonstrated his potential several times in the NFL. He scored twice against his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars as a rookie. In a win over the Broncos last year, Taylor caught four passes for 90 yards, including the game-winner.

The Ravens want more production from Taylor, much more than last season's 42 catches for 560 yards and three touchdowns. The pressure is there, but teammates think he will handle that well.

"Some people take pressure as a challenge, and I think Travis has worked hard," fullback Alan Ricard said. "He's big, fast with great hands and he's smart. I look for great things out of him."

Too often, though, Taylor has disappeared. Partly, that can be attributed to how Elvis Grbac didn't show confidence in Taylor, instead staring at Ismail and Sharpe.

Now, Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh are designing plays for Taylor with the hope that he may flourish.

"That's when a guy really finds out about himself," Billick said. "When the expectations are there that this team needs him to come into his own, that's quite a challenge for him. "You have to be the guy to step up."

Toward that end, Taylor trained this off-season at Cris Carter's speed camp in Boca Raton, Fla. He bulked up, too, gaining strength in his upper body to combat cornerbacks' jam attempts.

Taylor also did his homework and is versed enough in the offense that he's able to recite every player's assignment during team meetings.

"People like to joke that guys from Florida aren't bright, but he's a very bright receiver," rookie receiver Ron Johnson said. "He can tell you anything about your reads or what the defense is doing. As a No. 1 guy in the NFL, I don't see no reason why he shouldn't catch at least 70 balls."

Taylor enjoys a strong rapport with new quarterback Chris Redman. During the preseason, they weren't always on the same page, notably on an overthrow by Redman for an interception against Detroit.

In four games, Taylor caught eight passes for 89 yards as the Ravens' first offense generated three field goals and no touchdowns.

"It's time to go," Taylor said. "I know what I'm doing."

Redman is a believer in Taylor, but he tends to offer a caveat at the end of his compliments.

"He has got all the intangibles that a big-time player has," Redman said. "I think it's a matter of how good he wants to be."

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