Ravens in holding pattern at receiver

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Despite a quiet preseason for Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson, the Ravens are not changing the routes of their veteran receivers.

When the team opens the regular season against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 12 days, the plan is to start Sanders alongside Travis Taylor and stick with Robinson as the third wide-out.

The free-agent additions have combined for two catches for 18 yards, with Sanders missing most of the preseason with a foot injury and Robinson struggling to get into the flow of the offense. The Ravens' younger receivers -- Randy Hymes and Ron Johnson -- have picked up the slack as downfield threats, averaging more than 16 yards on 17 total receptions.

But the disparity in statistics won't force a change on the depth chart.

"I don't think anyone has done anything to unseat anybody," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "But we weren't looking for that. We were looking for the young guys who had one year of experience to get a lot of playing time in preseason and keep developing their skills."

The Ravens signed Sanders and Robinson this offseason to upgrade the league's sixth-worst passing attack and bring guidance to a raw receiving corps.

Sanders averaged 62 receptions in his eight seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, but his playing time with the Ravens has been surprisingly short.

After missing only five games since 1995, Sanders dislocated two toes on his right foot when making his first catch of the preseason. The injury has sidelined him the past two games and makes him doubtful for the preseason finale against the New York Giants on Thursday night.

Asked if he would be ready for the opener in Pittsburgh, Sanders said, "I'm expecting to be and I'd like to be. If I am, I will be out there. If not, it's just one of those things right now."

The absence of Sanders has put Robinson into the starting lineup the past two games. But the former Chicago Bear has little to show from his increased time, making one catch for 13 yards along with a couple of critical errors.

In the preseason opener, he couldn't hold onto the ball, which led to an interception deep in Ravens territory. The next week, he ran the wrong deep route that nearly resulted in an interception at the Falcons' goal line.

"I hate my preseason," Robinson said. "I don't think I have done as well as I should. I should have made more plays. It's frustrating at one point in time, but you have to keep moving on and trying to get better."

Ravens coach Brian Billick said it's hard to evaluate Robinson over a couple of games in the preseason.

"Is he healthy? Yes," Billick said. "Does he have all the physical tools he has had before? Yes. So, to a large degree, we're going to have to take a certain faith that he's got all the things that he had when he was a Pro Bowl player and that'll show up during the season."

That Pro Bowl season came in 1999, when Robinson averaged 16.7 yards on 84 catches for the Bears. But a knee injury has limited him to 44 catches over the past two seasons.

Convinced Robinson is healthy, the Ravens have envisioned him as a top deep threat, sending him downfield frequently during training camp.

"He needs to make some plays for us," Cavanaugh said. "This would be a nice week for him to get through the first part of the game and have a couple of catches and show us he's got it back. He's working at it and there's no question he wants it. We've just got to get the ball in his hands."

If Sanders can't start the first game, Robinson believes he can fill the void despite a rocky preseason.

"I've been a starter before in this league," he said, "and I still think I can."

If there's any movement on the depth chart, it could have come near the bottom of the receiving corps.

With his strong preseason, Randy Hymes may have jumped over Ron Johnson as the fourth receiver. Although Johnson leads the team with 10 catches for 161 yards, Hymes has been more focused and has produced similar numbers (seven receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown).

"Randy's been consistent in games," Cavanaugh said. "He's getting himself open and he's catching balls. He's making some big plays for us."

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