The Baltimore Ravens have made one lineup change on offense and seem almost certain to make another before the regular season as Coach Brian Billick works to develop a more consistent passing attack.
For the first preseason game Thursday night, Billick started veteran free agent Qadry Ismail instead of Patrick Johnson at wide receiver opposite Jermaine Lewis. Johnson had been with the first team throughout camp.
Ismail caught all three passes thrown his way, two of which resulted in first downs. Johnson dropped a pass in the end zone but soon made a more difficult catch to set up the only touchdown, a 10-yard pass from backup quarterback Tony Banks to rookie wide receiver Brandon Stokley, in the Ravens' 10-7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The change Billick is considering involves lineman Everett Lindsay, whom the Ravens acquired from the Minnesota Vikings on draft day for a sixth-round pick. Lindsay mostly was a backup the last three seasons for the Vikings, when Billick was their offensive coordinator, but could move ahead of either left guard James Atkins or center Jeff Mitchell with the Ravens. Lindsay subbed for each against the Eagles.
"Everett's a starter," Billick said. "But the offensive line right now is the least of my problems."
At the top of Billick's list of concerns is wide receiver. As has happened in training camp much more frequently than Billick would like, the wide receivers dropped several passes against the Eagles.
"We've got to find somebody, a group of somebodies, who consistently catch the ball when the opportunity arises," said Billick. "Not great catches. I'm not asking for one-handed dives into the end zone. But when the ball is there, you catch it."
Justin Armour, the slot receiver in the three-wideout formation, missed a first-down pass from starter Scott Mitchell on third-and-18 late in the first quarter but also made two catches for short gains in tight coverage.
Johnson showed why Billick gets so exasperated and so delighted in very brief time frames. On first down from the Philadelphia 25, Banks threw a beautiful pass into the end zone that Johnson dropped. Two plays later, Johnson made a leaping catch at the 10; the Banks-to-Stokley touchdown pass came on the next snap.
"Patrick has all the physical tools in the world," said Banks, who started 43 games for the St. Louis Rams but fell out of favor with the coaches last season and was traded to Baltimore for a fifth-round draft choice in mid-April. "But he does some of the things I do sometimes. He starts pressing. We both have a lot of physical talent -- and we want to make a play every time out there. He's got to learn to play more loose, let his physical tools run rampant."
Stokley's was the most impressive performance of the wide receivers. In addition to the touchdown catch, he had two other receptions for a total of 25 yards.
"He's well taught," Banks said of the Blacksburg, Va., native who caught 65 passes for 1,173 yards as a senior at Southwestern Louisiana. "He does some things well that most rookie receivers don't understand. On the touchdown route, he gave me enough room [by selling the defensive back on an outside move and then cutting toward the middle of the end zone]. Some guys would rush that -- and I would either have to throw more quickly than I wanted or not at all."
Stokley had convinced several Ravens insiders -- and also himself -- during two mini-camps that he belonged on the team. Coaches are concerned over some shoulder problems.
"I've got great confidence in my ability to catch the ball and to get open," he said. "That's where it has to start."