Pass catchers make grab for attention Running game gets focus, but Ravens sure to need long ball over long haul; Receivers


By going to a two-back offense, the Ravens sent a clear signal that they would become a running team bent on controlling the line of scrimmage and the clock.

Although the long ball will not be nearly as much a part of their strategy as in seasons past, don't think the receivers will be ignored.

Not with 6-foot-4 Michael Jackson at one wide receiver position and the speedy Jermaine Lewis on the other side. Not with another speedster, rookie Patrick Johnson, lining up in the slot or at wide-out. Not with veteran slot man Floyd Turner back after a year off.

And certainly not with massive tight end Eric Green healthy and ready to assume a prominent role in an offense that will rely heavily on short- and medium-range passes.

"This is a great offense for a tight end, and I'm glad to be a part of it," Green said. "This could be a huge year."

A year after he battled a nagging knee injury -- and still produced a career-high 65 catches -- Green is healthy, slimmer and hungry as ever for on-field success.

"This organization stuck by me at my low point, so I stuck by them," said Green, who signed a one-year, incentive-laden $1.2 million contract this year.

The Ravens, after losing Derrick Alexander to free agency, decided to move Lewis outside, partly to get him out of slot matchups that caused him to get hurt. He missed five games last year, but still produced the fifth-most total yardage in the NFL, albeit most of them on kick and punt returns.

Still, the 5-7 Lewis has the type of breakaway speed that could give cornerbacks plenty of problems. Witness his 31-yard touchdown reception in the preseason win against the Chicago Bears.

"It's not as easy at it looks. I just moved outside, and I'm still learning a lot about how to play out there," Lewis said. "I'll get there."

After a quiet first three preseason games, Jackson grabbed two passes in the finale against the New York Giants. He is only two years removed from catching a career-high 14 touchdown passes.

The surprise has been Johnson, who went through training camp and the preseason with more polish than most rookies show. He also has Lewis-like speed, which helped him average 28.5 yards on four preseason receptions.

Turner brings a veteran presence that makes quarterback Jim Harbaugh and coach Ted Marchibroda comfortable, since Turner played his finest football with both of them in Indianapolis.

"It's starting to feel like Indy around here, on the field and in the locker room," Turner said. "I've got a real good feeling about this season."

The Ravens also would like to see third-year receiver James Roe progress in 1998. He saw limited playing time last year, but with good results. His strengths are the ability to get open and catch pretty much anything in sight, but he lacks breakaway speed.

Scouting report

Strengths: Michael Jackson presents potential mismatches every week with his height, and Jermaine Lewis and Patrick Johnson are as fast as anyone in the league. Tight end Eric Green is in the ideal offense to extract the most from his talent.

Weaknesses: Johnson is a rookie and is in for the physical adjustment of his life. Just ask Lewis, who has had trouble remaining healthy.

Skinny: If Johnson continues to show the maturity that has been evident since the beginning of training camp, this group could be quite good.

Preseason grade: B. Jackson, who had only three preseason catches, needs to get more involved.

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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