Eisenberg: Rookie receivers on hot seat

Eisenberg: Rookie receivers on hot seat
September 22, 2011, 2:11 pm
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By John EisenbergRavens InsiderCSNbaltimore.com

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is always a willing interview subject, even after losses.

But he is not one to make edgy statements.

Thats why it was surprising to hear him voice even a semblance of concern about the Ravens rookie wide receivers Wednesday in his weekly session with reporters, saying in the midst of an otherwise positive comment that I dont know whether we should or shouldnt have trust in them.

Its an issue because starting receiver Lee Evans continues to struggle with a foot injury and David Reed is out for at least three weeks with a shoulder injury, leaving Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams as the Ravens' only healthy wideouts other than Anquan Boldin.

What do those three have in common? Theyre all rookies, and they have yet to catch a pass in the NFL.

But while their careers are just starting, the NFL can be an unforgiving place, and with Ravens coach John Harbaugh saying he might sit Evans this Sunday in St. Louis to give the ankle time to heal, its time for their apprenticeships to end.

A team with just one receiver making plays is a team in trouble. Someone new needs to step up this Sunday.

The vast majority of Flaccos comment about the young guys was positive. Heres the entirety of what he said when asked about them developing into a major part of the offense:

The only way that you really truly build that is, obviously, you can do it out here (at practice), but you have to go out there and see how they are going to react in games and pressure situations, Flacco said. Theyre going to be called on, and theyre going to have to play. Theyre going to have to go out there and make catches and make plays for our team.

"Were going to have to have confidence in it and have trust in them. I dont know if we should or shouldnt. I think we should. I think these guys are good football players, but the bottom line is we are going to have to and go out there and trust (them). Thats my job to trust these guys. Whoever we put on the field, they are ready and capable NFL football players. I have all the trust in the world in those guys.

My take: hes following his natural instinct to be a team guy and pump up the rookies, and hes certainly hoping for the best, but when he says, Were going to have to have confidence in them, he sounds as if he is talking himself into it.

The Ravens dont want to confront the possibility that the new guys simply might not be ready to contribute. Smith was a high draft pick, a second rounder, the 58th overall section in last Aprils draft. Doss came in the fourth round, supposedly because Flacco liked him on film. Williams shone so well in training camp that he made the roster as an undrafted free agent.

But wide receiver can be a tough position for a rookie wanting to make an immediate impact. The speed and athleticism that enabled him to stand out in college is no longer enough. Learning how to get open against veteran defenders can take time.

Doss, somewhat surprisingly, has spent the first two games on the inactive list, and Williams hasnt gotten off the bench. Smith has received the most playing time so far, but has been targeted just once in two games.

Harbaugh defended Smith this week, saying, If we didnt think he was ready to catch the ball and run with it, we certainly wouldnt put him on the field. I want to see him make catches as much as anybody, especially downfield, because thats what we brought him here to do. We just havent gotten to him yet with it.

Its time.

Follow John Eisenberg on Twitter at @CSNEisenberg