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Ravens' Domino Theory

New Wide Receiver Johnson Could Be the Key to Opening Up the Offense

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H05

The trade that brought Pro Bowl wide receiver Terrell Owens to the Baltimore Ravens in March was a bold, headline-grabbing move for a team that was looking to improve the NFL's worst passing offense. Just one problem: Owens refused to report to Baltimore and talked his way into a trade to Philadelphia.

The trade that brought wide receiver Kevin Johnson to Baltimore in April was far less flashy. The Ravens sent a fourth-round draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for the reliable six-year veteran on the second day of the NFL draft. Johnson was thrilled: He used the word "excited" nine times as he talked to reporters during a brief telephone interview on the day of the trade, and he wore a purple shirt to the news conference that formally introduced him as a Raven.

"Things happen in this league," said George Kokinis, the Ravens' director of pro personnel. "If it doesn't go one way, you go to your next plan. [Johnson became] available, then that was our best option. We're happy to have him."

Baltimore won 10 games and was AFC North champion despite having one of the NFL's most one-dimensional offenses. The Ravens were the league's best on the ground (167.1 yards per game) and worst in the air (140.9 yards per game). No team attempted fewer passes than the Ravens (415); no team had more rushing attempts (552).

At Johnson's introductory news conference, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh explained the domino effect of the trade: "We're going to expand the passing game, as everybody is dying to see. . . . He's going to complement [wide receiver] Travis Taylor, take a little bit of pressure off of him, which in turn would take a little pressure off of [Pro Bowl tight end] Todd Heap, which in turn would take a little pressure off of [Pro Bowl running back] Jamal Lewis, and the ultimate goal is to take pressure off of me."

The Ravens' offensive philosophy is not going to change this year. Jamal Lewis, who rushed for the second-highest total in NFL history in 2003 (2,066 yards), is still the first option.

But what needs to change is the offensive efficiency. The Ravens want second-year quarterback Kyle Boller to improve on his AFC-worst completion percentage (51.8 percent), and they want Johnson and Taylor to be productive when they catch the ball. The best way to measure the production of the Ravens' receivers is not by number of catches, but by yards gained after the catch.

"I don't know if we're going to have a receiver with 90 or 100 catches because we give the ball to Jamal a lot, and Todd Heap is a presence," Cavanaugh said. "Our receivers need to be productive when they're catching the ball. If I had to put a number on it, I'm guessing that if [Johnson and Taylor] both came up with 50 to 60 catches, that 110-120 catches out of that group of receivers would be pretty good, based on what we've had in the past.

"If it's more than that, it means we're throwing the ball efficiently and getting more opportunities for them. That's really what it's going to come down to. They can help create some of their own opportunities by getting some yards after the catch."

The Ravens tried to get Johnson last year when he was waived after falling out of favor with Browns Coach Butch Davis.

Sixteen teams claimed Johnson, and he was awarded to Jacksonville. He became available when the Jaguars selected receiver Reggie Williams with the ninth overall pick in the 2004 draft. He made an immediate impression in minicamp; he fit in well with his new teammates, he worked hard, and he caught everything thrown his way.

"He's as advertised," Coach Brian Billick said. "He's very consistent. Great hands, good explosion. He's going to be a good solid go-to guy that, if you get the ball near him, he's going to come up with it and make a play."

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Johnson doesn't have Owens's size or explosiveness. He doesn't have great speed, and he isn't the deep threat the Ravens need. But what he does have is a pair of dependable hands -- "The best set of hands," according to Baltimore cornerback Corey Fuller -- and toughness, a swagger that the Ravens' passing game wants.

"He's one of those guys that's going to come back to the sideline and tell you, 'I'm open,' even if he's not open," Boller said. "That's good. I like that. You want a guy that wants the ball."

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