Time is now for receivers to step up

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' patience with their wide receiving corps is wearing thin, exhausted by the collective fatigue of watching them register a few outstanding catches followed by a series of confounding dropped passes.

As the Ravens contemplate whether to seek reinforcements via the waiver wire or a low-profile trade for an experienced wide receiver, they're holding out hope that someone emerges as a viable threat behind two-time Pro Bowl selection Derrick Mason.

That increases the personal stakes for tonight's third preseason game on the road against the Carolina Panthers, especially for Demetrius Williams, Kelley Washington and Justin Harper.

"Of course, we have to be more consistent," Williams said. "It could be so much better. That needs to improve, and we're working hard on that. This game is a big deal."

With Williams, it's a matter of addressing durability concerns and increasing his productivity during the convalescence of starting wide receiver Mark Clayton due to a strained left hamstring.

For Harper, who leads the Ravens this preseason with six receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown, it's a matter of holding onto the football.

He has dropped several passes in games and practices while also flashing a penchant for the acrobatic reception.

And Washington, who has energized practices and games with his habit of flashy celebrations after catches, has caught three passes for 53 yards.

However, the former Cincinnati Bengals third-round draft pick has also dropped a potential touchdown pass on a fade pattern. And he's coming off a one-reception season with the New England Patriots.

"If you want to talk about the wide receiver position, they're doing a lot of good things, but I want to see them catch the ball all the time," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Catch every single pass that's thrown to you and a lot of good things are going to happen. If you drop one, come back and catch the next one."

At this point, only Mason and, to a much lesser extent, Clayton, are proven wide receivers for the Ravens.

The position drew scrutiny throughout the offseason as the Ravens explored a trade scenario for Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin, but ultimately found his contract demands and the trade compensation to be too rich for their blood. And they didn't draft a wide receiver after the Cleveland Browns grabbed wideouts Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie prior to their spot in the second round.

Now, the Ravens are scouting receivers around the league such as the New York Giants' David Tyree, a former Super Bowl hero who's now on the roster bubble, and Philadelphia Eagles second-round draft pick Reggie Brown. There have been several trade rumors out of Philadelphia that the Eagles would gladly unload Brown for a late-round draft pick.

The Ravens sent an executive to scout the Eagles' preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night.

Harper is the lone receiver to catch a touchdown pass for Baltimore this month. If he doesn't play more consistently, though, he's at risk of losing his roster spot.

"I'm looking for that consistency every day," Harper said. "I know for me to be a part of the team and for me to make a difference on this team, I have to make that play every time. I can't be dropping the ball and I won't be. This is a really important game. It's a huge night."

Added Williams: "I've told Justin to stay focused, keep playing. You're going to have good days and bad days. Keep your mind in the game."

It has been a really quiet preseason for Williams with a modest three receptions for 31 yards. After missing the majority of last season with a heel and Achilles' tendon injury that required surgery, Williams has tweaked his right hamstring a few times since training camp began.

Now that he's healthy again, he's looking for a big game.

"You just want to get in that end zone a couple of times," Williams said. "That's how you build confidence and the chemistry."

With the receivers not very productive, quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Troy Smith's statistics have suffered.

Flacco has completed 17 of 33 passes for 223 yards for 51.5 percent accuracy, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a 73.2 quarterback rating.

And Smith has completed just 18 of 39 passes for 284 yard and 46.2 percent accuracy, one touchdown and one interception for a 68.8 quarterback rating.

"We focus on what we can control and we're really just hammering that at the receivers," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We like to think when the season starts that scheme-wise the receivers will have a chance.

"Still have to catch the ball better, but I like the fundamentals I see. There's separation. If you don't have separation, it doesn't matter what the design is. First, you've got to catch it. Then, we've got to see what we can get after that."

With the benefit of a dozen NFL seasons, Mason has offered some helpful advice to his fellow receivers.

Besides setting an example with his textbook routes and hands, Mason has imparted a few words about how to compete

"My advice to them is you have to push the guy next to you," Mason said. "My advice to these guys is to make it a hard decision, make the coaches' decisions tough by showing them what you can do."

FIVE KEY QUESTIONS

By Aaron Wilson

1. How will the Baltimore Ravens' wide receivers fare tonight against the Carolina Panthers? The Ravens have been looking for improved consistency out of the receiving corps for the entire preseason, but have been plagued by dropped passes and uneven production. If Demetrius Williams, Kelley Washington and Justin Harper don't stand out this game and reverse the trend, the Ravens may be forced to seek outside help off the waiver wire or via a low-profile trade for someone like Reggie Brown or David Tyree. Jobs are at stake tonight against the Panthers with potential ramifications beyond this game. It's time for someone to prove themselves.

2. What should be expected out of rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher against veteran defensive end Julius Peppers? Oher is definitely looking forward to the challenge. Based on his first two preseason game, expect Oher to be physical with Peppers and be able to move quickly enough to cut him off. If Oher's technique isn't solid, though, if he's lunging and doesn't have his feet squared properly, then it could be a rough night for the first-round draft pick. This is the kind of invaluable experience that the Ravens are happy to have Oher get during the preseason.

3. Will Steve Hauschka lock up the kicking job? Hauschka appears to be on the verge of winning the competition over rookie Graham Gano as he has made all three of his field goals through two preseason games. Meanwhile, Gano has made just 1 of 3 attempts and has missed two consecutive kicks. The Lou Groza Award winner seems to be pressing while Hauschka is gaining confidence. Perhaps the Ravens won't have to dial up Matt Stover after all.

4. Is cornerback Frank Walker going to bounce back?

Walker was scorched by the New York Jets, allowing a touchdown pass to David Clowney and nearly another potential score that was mercifully dropped. The Jets went after him virtually every passing attempt when he was in the game, perhaps working with inside knowledge from coach Rex Ryan. It was an alarming performance that raises concerns if starters Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Walker get hurt. Especially since veteran Samari Rolle's status is in doubt due to a neck injury. If this persists, then Lardarius Webb or Chris Carr's playing time will have to be increased. It's a good think Walker doesn't lack for confidence.

5. Who's expected to be out of the lineup? Several players are expected to be out for this game, including nose guard Kelly Gregg (shoulder), wide receivers Mark Clayton (left hamstring) and Biren Ealy (groin), linebackers Terrell Suggs (left heel, Achilles' tendon) and Dannell Ellerbe (sprained medial collateral ligament), offensive guard Chris Chester (right calf sprain), tight end L.J. Smith (hamstring pull), Rolle and offensive tackle Stefan Rodgers (right foot sprain). Offensive tackles Jared Gaither (trapezius, wrist) and Oniel Cousins (sprained right ankle) are regarded as possible question marks for this game.

-- Aaron Wilson

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