- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

WESTMINSTER, Md. — Many receivers have been mentioned as saviors of the Baltimore Ravens’ passing game, but so far none has delivered.

Enter Kevin Johnson, the current chosen one. It is the Ravens’ hope that he will bring balance to their brutally efficient, run-oriented offense.

“I know I can catch the football — that’s the least of my worries,” Johnson said.

No self-hype there. Johnson, a sixth-year pro out of Syracuse, has averaged 66 catches a season with the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Had the 5-foot-11 Johnson played in Baltimore last year and caught 66 balls, he would have been the leading receiver. Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap was the Ravens’ top target, catching 57 passes for 693 yards and three touchdowns.

Last season the Ravens were the worst passing team in the league at 140.9 yards a game. Johnson should provide consistency, because all the Baltimore receivers dropped their share of passes from quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright.

“That’s why Kevin is here — he’s been a dependable receiver, and he’s not just an inside, third-down slot receiver. He’s a first-down, second-down, third-down receiver,” said quarterbacks/receivers coach David Shaw. “When you give him the ball, he catches it and he gets positive yards.”

If Johnson continues in character, the Ravens’ front office may have pulled off the best deal in franchise history. On the second day of April’s NFL Draft, the Ravens dealt a fourth-round pick (120th overall) to the Jaguars for Johnson.

Johnson, who was the Browns’ leading receiver for four seasons (1999 to 2002), enters this season with a 79-game consecutive catch streak.

Although not tall, Johnson is a sure-handed receiver who goes over the middle and has caught 23 touchdown passes in his career. His best season was 2001, when he led the Browns with 84 receptions for 1,097 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Browns waived Johnson last Nov.11 when he had a falling out with management. Sixteen teams claimed him, the largest claim total in NFL history. The Jaguars acquired Johnson, and he caught 17 passes for 253 yards (14.8) and one touchdown in seven games.

“We were in the middle of the league in drops — we weren’t at the top [last season],” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “Even though, that is unacceptable, I don’t know that in itself was a major problem for us, but clearly that has to be a focus. We’ve been pretty good this year.”

According to Shaw, the Ravens have made subtle changes to their passing game to make things easier for second-year man Boller and to exert more control on games through the air.

What makes Johnson so strong a receiver?

“It’s just concentration and attention to detail,” he said. “You’ve got to understand exactly what the defenses give you and exactly what the offense wants to get done. Obviously, we’re a running football team. But all great football teams have to have a consistent and highly efficient passing game. We can rely on Jamal [Lewis] but so far and we’ve got to help him out. That’s what I was brought here to do — keep the chains moving and keep the pressure off Jamal.”

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