No Looking Past 2009 For Mason

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Plans were in the works for Baltimore's Marching Ravens to add to the atmosphere surrounding Derrick Mason's return at McDaniel College, but Sunday morning rain showers made it impossible.

Still, the cheers that erupted whenever Mason caught a pass were worthy substitutes.

The 12-year veteran was on the practice field after ending his 20-day retirement and immediately regained his place as the leader of the Ravens' receiving corps.

"I think that, more than anything, is what I miss. It's the fans," Mason said. "They come out every Sunday. They come out here to Westminster every day we're out here in the sun. I don't know how they do it, because it's hot out here. They come out here. They bring the kids out here, and they're enjoying having fun. For me to get that applause coming down the walkway here – it felt good, it really felt good.

"I was looking for the marching band," he added with a wink. "We'll get it sooner or later. Either that, or Girl Scouts come on down and cheer me on the next practice or something."

All jokes aside, Mason's return was a welcome sight to everyone in attendance. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound wideout's surprising retirement announcement on July 13 sent shockwaves through Charm City.

With Mason in the lineup, the Ravens have a player that has topped 1,000 receiving yards seven times, including three of the four years he has been with in Baltimore.

And Mason's presence will aid in the development of quarterback Joe Flacco. As a rookie last year, Flacco completed 60 passes to Mason for first downs, while 26 of Mason's team-leading 80 catches came on third down.

Having that security in a quarterback's second season is key, but Mason chose not to look beyond 2009.

Mason is playing in the last year of his contract. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2010.

Could this be the final year for one of the NFL's most dependable receivers?

"I'm not going to look past this year," Mason explained. "I'm going to enjoy each day I'm out here. I'm going to enjoy each practice. I'm going to enjoy each game that we have, preseason or regular season. I'm going to enjoy it. I'm going to worry about next year when next year comes.

"I've got too many problems today to worry about tomorrow."

Earlier this offseason, Mason voiced his desire for a contract extension, but when Mason met with head coach John Harbaugh on Saturday, he told them he was not going to discuss the matter any further.

"I don't want that to be a carrot hanging over my head – people saying, 'Well, he just came back for the contract.' No," Mason stated. "I didn't get an extension. I haven't been talking about an extension. I'm coming back to play football, and I'm coming back to try to win a Super Bowl."

Harbaugh said his conversation with Mason dealt with his desire to play.

"The thing that Derrick and I talked about was, 'Come back when and if you're 100-percent ready to play football and be a part of what this team needs,'" noted Harbaugh. "That's what he wanted to do, and I think that was probably the thought process.

"He felt like he was ready to play, and he really couldn't wait to get back. He had a good practice today."

Even though he had a red non-contact jersey tucked into his belt because of a left shoulder injury that is still healing, Mason was obviously happy to get on the field.

He ran tight routes. He caught mostly everything thrown his way. And to show that he really hadn't changed during his hiatus, Mason jawed back and forth with anyone that would listen.

"I'm enjoying be out here with the guys, catching footballs and joking around," Mason said smiling. "I didn't get an opportunity to get to joke around as much as I want to because Sizzle [Terrell Suggs], for some reason, he wasn't in there [when I was playing]. After we caught like two or three passes in a row, Sizzle left. Before that he was yapping. I was looking for him to talk, but I'm going to have my day."

Teammates like Suggs were a big reason Mason returned. He said he got calls and visits from many players and coaches, including offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and left tackle Jared Gaither. They all encouraged him to take all the time he needed to mull his decision over.

Mason cited the recent death of close friend Steve McNair as one of the many factors that went into his retirement announcement. But after consulting with his family and other sounding boards, Mason chose to rejoin the team and solidify the Ravens at receiver.

"The best part is having Derrick Mason back on our football team," Harbaugh said. "I've said it from the beginning and I've told Derrick this: We're a better football team with Derrick Mason. We thought we'd be a good team no matter what, but we're better with Derrick."

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