As most of the Baltimore Ravens headed for the locker room after practice on a wet, gray afternoon, Deion Sanders remained on the field for extra work. But the future Hall of Fame cornerback wasn't working on defending passes -- he was catching them.
A groin injury to wide receiver Travis Taylor has left the Ravens with just four healthy wideouts, one of whom has more than eight games of NFL experience, heading into their home opener Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Coach Brian Billick didn't rule out the possibility of using Sanders, who ended his three-year retirement to join the Ravens on Sept. 1, as a receiver.
"Possibly, but then again, we can't let one problem cascade into difficulties someplace else," Billick said. "We definitely will move towards that, but I don't want to do it at a pace that puts Deion at risk either mentally or physically based on his primary obligation, which is in our secondary."
Taylor, the 10th overall pick in the 2000 draft, was hindered for much of training camp with a groin strain and he aggravated the injury trying to break free on a deep pattern in the first quarter in last week's 20-3 loss at Cleveland. He is listed as questionable, but most likely will not play against Pittsburgh, and he could be sidelined for a few weeks.
Without Taylor, the Ravens have just one experienced receiver: six-year veteran Kevin Johnson, who had five catches for 43 yards against the Browns. The rest of the receiving corps is short on experience but long on potential.
Randy Hymes, who will start in Taylor's place against Pittsburgh, is in his third season in Baltimore. He signed with the Ravens after finishing his career at Grambling, where he played both quarterback and wide receiver, and spent the first half of his rookie season on the practice squad. Hymes wound up playing in seven games as a rookie.
Hymes missed the entire 2003 season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in a preseason game. His last start, incidentally, came against Pittsburgh in the 2002 season finale, in which he had two catches for 76 yards, including a terrific one-handed grab that turned into a 33-yard gain.
Hymes caught five passes for 39 yards against Cleveland. "I've got a job to do," said Hymes, who also serves as the backup long snapper and emergency quarterback. "It doesn't mean go out and hesitate at my job, I've got to go out and do the things that Travis was doing before he was injured."
The other two receivers are rookies. Devard Darling, the Ravens' third-round draft pick, was slowed for parts of training camp with a quadriceps injury, but he played in the season opener (though he didn't have a catch). Clarence Moore, a sixth-round draft pick, is raw but has intriguing skills and, at 6-foot-6, towers over the rest of the receivers. He was on the inactive list for the opener.
"They're young, and I'm young still, so it'll be my job to get them the ball as much as I can," second-year quarterback Kyle Boller said. "It's disappointing that Travis isn't going to be out there; he had been here in the offseason and I felt like we were getting some chemistry. . . . Hopefully, he'll get healthy. We've just got to keep going. I think these guys will step up."
Sanders worked out with Boller, Darling, tight end Todd Heap, quarterback Kordell Stewart, and quarterback-wide receivers coach David Shaw after practice. He ran short routes on the slick grass.
(Maybe the desire to play receiver is contagious: Even Stewart -- who caught 41 passes for 658 yards during his "Slash" days in Pittsburgh -- lined up at receiver.)
Against the Browns, Sanders played only about 15 snaps on defense and returned one punt for five yards. His role will continue to expand, and Billick said that the Steelers could use more three-wide receiver sets, which would mean more snaps for Sanders in the nickel package.
Still, Sanders said he would welcome the opportunity to help out on offense, and that as a receiver, he would bring "fear to the opposing player." He has made 60 catches for 784 yards and three touchdowns in his 13-year career, but he hasn't caught a pass in the NFL since the 1999 season, when he was with the Dallas Cowboys.
Ravens Note: Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who missed the season opener with a sprained left knee, participated in portions of practice, a good sign for a banged up offensive line. "He looks to be okay," Billick said before practice. "We'll take it on a practice-by-practice basis."