Many NFL insiders consider a receiver's third year to be special, the one where a player's talents really blossom.
Mark Clayton would like a mulligan on his.
Following a promising start to his career after the Ravens made him the 22nd-overall selection in the 2005 draft, Clayton relapsed in his third campaign.
The wideout went from catching 67 passes for 939 yards and five touchdowns in 2006 to only 48 receptions for 531 yards last year, never finding the end zone once.
Clayton may be soft-spoken, but he is a fiery competitor despite the bright smile usually seen behind his facemask. He knows that such paltry numbers are not up to snuff for a former first-round pick.
Clayton also views his fourth season as a chance to start over and prove that 2007 was a fluke.
"The way  happened is not the way that I envisioned it, but it's just about being confident and knowing that they brought me here for a reason," he said. "I know that I'm not here for no reason. I'm here to be great. I'm just waiting on the opportunity, and when the opportunity presents itself, I have to take advantage."
Injuries derailed part of Clayton's junior effort. He began the season with a painful sprained ankle in the preseason against the New York Giants, which hindered him throughout much of the year.
Then, he hurt a toe in the opener at Cincinnati, followed by an Achilles injury weeks later.
Clayton may have played in all 16 games (12 starts), but he certainly didn't feel 100 percent.
"I think injuries deal with mental toughness," Clayton explained. "We're all competitors, and you get injured and you still want to play. I know I don't like watching. That's no fun. I'm sure any of the other guys would say the same.
"You tell yourself that you can go, and you only can't go when you really can't go. But if you can't, you push through it, and that deals with mental toughness."
The Ravens actually bumped Clayton from the first-string in offseason minicamps in favor of Demetrius Williams, but a left leg injury has kept Williams on the sideline.
Clayton hopes to make the case that he still belongs with the starters when the Ravens open their season against the Bengals Sept. 7. At the midpoint of training camp, Clayton already looks more confident, with sticky hands that have done a solid job of hauling in footballs from one of Baltimore's three quarterbacks.
"Knowing that I'm capable, I know how to make plays," he stated. "When the offense is flat, [I have to] do something to get everybody up and going, offensively and defensively. Just having that confidence in learning more in the offense – especially having [Derrick] Mason there with his wisdom and everything – it's just about going out, having fun, making plays and making sure everybody else is, too."
A new coaching staff in Baltimore brings a new offense that suits the speedy 5-foot-10 Clayton. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron makes the unit adhere strictly to a 40-second play clock, which ups the tempo for everyone on the field.
"We're fast-break. We are up and down," Clayton affirmed. "It's all about tempo and being one play ahead at all times. Whatever happened on the last one, let it go, let's go and get in your zone as soon as possible."
And after his touchdown drought of 2007, Clayton has one zone specifically on his mind – the end zone.
Here are some more notes and observations from Friday's practices, the second of which was a special teams session:
- Running back Allen Patrick and defensive tackle J'Vonne Parker both returned to the field after missing Thursday, but the Ravens still missed a number of other players.
The injured list includes:
Wideouts Demetrius Williams (leg) and Patrick Carter (shoulder); running backs PJ Daniels (undisclosed) and Cory Ross (undisclosed); fullback Justin Green (leg), linebackers Dan Cody (leg) and linebacker Gary Stills (undisclosed); tackles Oniel Cousins (knee), Joe Reitz (shoulder), Jared Gaither (ankle) and Adam Terry (ankle); tight ends Aaron Walker (undisclosed) and Daniel Wilcox (foot); and defensive linemen Haloti Ngata (MCL sprain), Justin Bannan (undisclosed) and Kelly Gregg (undisclosed).
- The Ravens also only had two quarterbacks for much of practice, as Troy Smith was about one hour late due to a random drug test mandated by the league. Head coach John Harbaugh revealed that the reason Smith was late was because he needed extra time to provide a sample for the testers.
"There's an issue – we've had this happen three or four times at camp – with the new drug testing policy that's in place," Harbaugh said. "It's very strict, very stringent, and they have to get the drug test done before they can come out and practice in the morning or they can't get it done. Sometimes it takes guys a little longer to get it done, and it took Troy a while today to get that taken care of."
- Linebacker Ray Lewis had a big day, picking off two Kyle Boller passes, including one in the end zone. No. 52 also stripped running back Ray Rice when the rookie caught a pass. Cornerback Frank Walker picked up the ball and raced the other way to the end zone.
- Rice was less-than-stellar in catching punts, something he has excelled in through much of camp. Rice dropped two punts in the morning session and then another in the afternoon.
- Joe Flacco got rid of the ball quickly on a day when the pocket collapsed fairly regularly. Harbaugh had previously pointed out Flacco's need to speed up how long he holds the football. The rookie signal-caller also displayed nifty feet on a naked bootleg to the left.
- The Ravens operated a no-huddle offense for the first time Friday, with Smith at the helm. Harbaugh said he was encouraged by the way his team improved throughout the day.
"That was really well orchestrated, and I thought it was handled well," he stated. "It was interesting – we had some bad formations early, we jumped off-sides on defense a couple times early in the blitz drill, but we sorted that out as practice went on, and guys did a much better job later on in practice."
- In need of depth at running back to ease the burden on Ray Rice (who is getting most of the carries as Willis McGahee nurses a sore knee), Baltimore signed Alex Haynes, who was at Ravens camp in 2005. Cornerback Anwar Phillips was waived to clear a roster spot.
Haynes spent the last three years with the Carolina Panthers.
For Saturday:The Ravens will mark the halfway point of training camp with 8:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. practices. Fans, please note that linebackers, tight ends, running backs, safeties and kickers will be the only position groups to sign autographs Saturday, due to scheduled weight lifting for the other positions.