-- Wide receiver Kevin Johnson knows why he was brought to the Baltimore Ravens: He was brought here to catch passes, make plays and help improve a passing offense that ranked last in the NFL last year.
"We can rely on Jamal [Lewis, who led the league in rushing], but only so far; we have to help him out," said Johnson, who was acquired from Jacksonville in a draft-day trade. "Hopefully that's what I was brought here to do, to keep the chains moving, take pressure off Jamal. I know I can catch the football. That's the least of my worries."
Johnson will be one of the few significant new faces on the field when the Ravens open the preseason against the Atlanta Falcons at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.
The Baltimore team that takes the field will look a lot like the one that won the AFC North in 2003; 21 of 22 starters from that squad are back (though linebacker Peter Boulware is recovering from knee surgery and cornerback Chris McAlister has not yet reported to camp because of a contract dispute).
The Ravens are loaded with veterans; they lost only seven players from last year's final 53-man roster. As a result, "the curve, in terms of installation and where we're at, is so much more accelerated because they know what we want," Coach Brian Billick said.
Thursday's game will give Billick a chance to evaluate some young players -- like the Ravens' top draft pick, rookie defensive tackle Dwan Edwards -- and to take a look at some position battles.
Casey Rabach has been battling incumbent Bennie Anderson for the starting job at right guard, and Randy Hymes, Ron Johnson and rookie Devard Darling are vying for the third wide receiver spot. The Ravens are also trying to figure out who is going to be the nickel back, since they lost veteran Dale Carter because of a blood clot in his lung.
"Come Thursday, it's all about wanting to win, but I have to keep the bigger perspective in terms of what we have to get done," Billick said. "I still have to see a lot of individuals to make sure that we have the right 53 men on this football team."
The Ravens have stayed relatively healthy throughout the first two weeks of training camp, and one of the main priorities Thursday will be getting through the game without any major injuries.
No one needs to be reminded of the potential for catastrophe after what happened when these teams met during the 2003 preseason: Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick broke his leg after being tackled by linebacker Adalius Thomas early in the game, and missed the first 10 games of the season.
Vick is expected to play just one series Thursday.
Baltimore quarterback Kyle Boller, on the other hand, probably will play the first quarter, taking no more than 20 snaps. Kordell Stewart, who was signed as Boller's backup in the offseason, will finish the first half and could start the second. Both were efficient in an intrasquad scrimmage Friday, combining to complete 15 of 21 passes for 158 yards.
Johnson, who has averaged 66 catches per season in his career, has been impressive throughout training camp. He made a concerted effort to spend time working out with Boller at the Ravens' training facility in Owings Mills after the trade. He knew that the Ravens had a veteran group returning, and he wanted to make sure that he had a good grasp of the offense and was prepared for training camp.
Now he just wants to get out and make some plays. He did not have a catch in last week's scrimmage.
"Obviously you have a lot of anxiety built up," Johnson said. "I just want to go and get comfortable. Your adrenaline is going to be pumping. I just want to relax. I just want to catch that first ball, get it out of the way, and move forward."