Clayton's Now No. 1

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Mark Clayton  was playing golf with a friend last week when his phone began ringing like crazy.

The news of Derrick Mason's unexpected retirement announcement was spreading across the news cycle, and people – friends, family, reporters – wanted to know what the Ravens' other starting receiver thought.

But when prompted for a reaction, Clayton had no idea what to make of the situation.

"I didn't realize it was real for a couple of days," Clayton said Thursday. "It was so shocking that my buddies were laughing at something I said in one article. It was 'What? For real?! Yeah, right.' That was one of the worst interviews he'd ever heard, but that's really what it was like. I didn't have any answers until I heard from Derrick."

Clayton, like the Ravens, is still holding out hope that Baltimore's top wideout in Baltimore returns to a position group many pundits have already questioned.

But if Mason, who led the Ravens with 80 catches, 1,037 yards and five receiving touchdowns last season, continues with his plan of walking away from the NFL after a gaudy 12-year career, Clayton will step into that No. 1 spot.

The five-year veteran, who amassed 41 receptions for 695 yards and three scores, believes he is ready for the responsibility.

"You always have to work like if your team needs a play in the fourth quarter it's coming to you," Clayton said. "That's the mentality I've always taken. When the opportunity presents itself, you should know it's coming. You have to say, 'I've worn these shoes already.'"

Mason's decision was not taken lightly, though.

Ever since Clayton was selected in the first round of the 2005 draft, Mason has served as a mentor. He continued to play that role as the Ravens attempted to develop Demetrius WilliamsMarcus Smith and Justin Harper.

Mason's tireless training, upbeat demeanor and fiery temper were inspiring to the young group, especially Clayton.

"It was his passion and commitment, two very powerful things that I can confidently say he possessed," Clayton explained. "Not just vocally. Everybody saw that. 'Mase' was certainly an influence and inspiration to me. There have been times when it's been tough and you didn't want to go in, but you knew 85 was going to be at the facility. He's been doing that for 10, 11, 12 years.

"He taught me to love the ride and enjoy what you do."

Clayton said he understands why Mason admitted that he was "99 percent" ready to retire, instead of the full 100. The Ravens, with their stout defense, promising offensive line and Joe Flacco at quarterback, are poised to make another run to the AFC Championship and beyond.

Then again, Mason's family is extremely important to him.

"I've tried to recognize both," said Clayton. "The passion and why we play football is to win championships. Then, we also live life to have a family and to touch other people's lives so they won't have to go through what you did. I said, 'We can win the Super Bowl, but you also have your family.'"

Clayton thinks that the offense will be fine with whatever choice Mason makes. With a potential opening in the receiving corps, there is a renewed fire among the other prospects jockeying for position.

"Guys are hungry," Clayton stated. "If Mason decides to hang it up, we'll still need a solid group of receivers, and I know these guys are working hard. With Mase retiring, the opportunity to really have an impact and be on the field became a reality."

Training camp opens to rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans on Monday, and for the first time in his professional career, Clayton may not have Mason running alongside him.

Still, Clayton envisions the offense continuing to run smoothly.

"Ultimately, it's about work, and Joe and I know what it's going to take to go on the field and click," he said. "We can put points on the board, and we're hoping to do that at a rate that's never been seen here in Baltimore.

"We want to be pioneers and start something. That is exciting."  

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