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Eisenberg: Plan Hasn't Changed: Young WRs Must Step Up


As the Ravens adjust to having Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark around, it's important to correctly anticipate their roles in the offense ... and not get carried away.

If you think they're being brought in as part-and-parcel replacements for Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, as one national NFL insider tweeted over the weekend, think again. That's not the case.

Yes, the new veteran additions (do I dare call them the Golden Guys?) are here largely because Boldin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers and Pitta went down with a season-ending hip injury – developments that combined to create a hole in the Ravens' mid-range receiving corps. But Stokley and Clark are only part of Plan B, not its entirety. Far from it.

Stokley will be expected to move the chains as a target for quarterback Joe Flacco on third downs. But at age 37, in his 15th season, he shouldn't be counted on to start or break games open. Yes, he has remained productive, catching 45 balls in Denver last season (remember that nifty touchdown catch in the playoffs against the Ravens?) but he has started only 13 games since 2008. On a winning team like the Ravens, he's a role guy.

Even with him in the mix, the Ravens still need Jacoby Jones to step up and become a solid No. 2 starter opposite Torrey Smith, moving the chains himself as well as making big plays – a major leap for Jones, who has never filled that role. They also still need someone from their underclass of young guys to emerge as a producer either in slot or as a big-play weapon, whether it be Deonte Thompson, Tandon Doss or someone else.

These days, an offense needs to roll out more than just a couple of receivers who give defenses something to think about. The Ravens left a sizable hole in their receiving corps when they elected to trade Boldin, and it's going to take a village, not just Stokley, to fill in what's missing. Stokley's presence doesn't mean the "next men up" now don't have to step up. Their speed is needed to open the field for mid-range receivers. Stokley adds depth, experience, a record of dependability, and can be counted on to catch some balls. But he is not the answer in and of himself.

The same is true with Clark and the hole at tight end. Yes, that situation is different in that the Ravens didn't create the hole with a salary cap decision and trade; they just watched Pitta go down with a dislocated hip on the first weekend of training camp, then watched his de facto replacement, Ed Dickson, suffer a slight hamstring tear a week later. But the end result is the same. Help was and is needed.

Clark should provide some of that help. He's had a long run as a major weapon, mostly when paired with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. He's certainly a guy who knows how to get to the first down marker.

But at 34, playing for his third team in three years, he shouldn't be counted on to pile up staggering stats. Although he had 47 catches for Tampa Bay in 2012, he has averaged less than 10 yards per catch over the past three seasons. Dickson, eight years younger, should still be the starter and primary threat if healthy, especially on deep routes. Visanthe Shiancoe, another veteran signed as insurance, could also end up in the mix.

Regardless of who plays, the Ravens like to use two tight ends and hope to combine enough production from various sources to make up for what was lost when Pitta, who had 61 receptions in 2012, went down. It would be especially helpful if Dickson reverted to his 2011 form, when he caught 54 passes.

Bottom line, the Ravens needed Jones and one or more of their young wideouts to earn roles before they brought in Stokley, and that still needs to happen. They also needed Dickson to have a better year before they signed Clark, and that still needs to happen. In that sense, nothing has changed.

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