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The Competition: Wideouts


In the coming weeks, will offer previews of each position, focusing on who will be in the thick of the competition come training camp. Today, the wide receivers take the spotlight.

The story of Baltimore's wide receivers in 2007 could be largely summed up with one name: Derrick Mason.

Various injuries within the position group pegged the 12-year veteran as the go-to guy, a tag with which he's been familiar throughout his career. With the added attention from Ravens quarterbacks, Mason turned in a stellar season, catching a personal-best 103 passes for 1,087 yards and five touchdowns.

But even though Mason was a stud on the stat sheet, he'd like that to change. While he wouldn't mind passing the 1,000-yard mark again (he's done it six times in his career), Mason would gladly sacrifice some of the receptions if it means the Ravens' offense can get more done through the air.

"I don't necessarily need to be the guy catching everything," Mason. "I don't want to. We need to get Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams involved. We have a lot of guys that can make plays, but we were just bit by the injury bug."

Good thing for Mason, that's exactly what new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron intends to do with his diverse playbook. During the offseason, Cameron – along with quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson and receivers coach Jim Hostler – has worked tirelessly with the wideouts and quarterbacks.

Before, during and after practices, receivers would run route after route to improve their timing with Kyle Boller, Troy Smith, Joe Flacco and Brad Roach.

Entering training camp, the depth chart seems to shake out with the expected Mason, Williams and Clayton in the top three. The Ravens, though, have some interesting prospects in the race for receivers Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

Considering Cameron's history of using burlier pass-catchers, the speedy Yamon Figurs has seen more action returning kicks than at receiver in minicamps, perhaps opening up chances for rookies Marcus Smith and Justin Harper to make contributions.

At 6-foot-2, 221 pounds, Smith is a wide body that is eager for physical contact, especially considering he converted from a running back in 2004.

"We think he has great hands, and we hope he's going to be a big-play guy," said head coach John Harbaugh. "But our reputation for him was a tough, competitive guy who would block people and play great special teams – a real physical hardnosed player who had those other skills."

Harper, 6-foot-4, 213, is another prospect that is getting a closer look. After a solid career at Virginia Tech, the seventh-round draft pick has made some eye-catching grabs in practice.

"We're hopeful that Justin can become a red zone target and a target all over the field," Cameron noted. "I'd say he's been better than expected. He's had a good stretch here."

The Ravens also added some larger insurance with rookie free agents Patrick Carter (6-foot-3, 200) and Ernie Wheelwright (6-5, 215), while Matt Willis and Kerry Reed will also battle for spots.

Here is a breakdown of the wide receivers on the Ravens' roster: Derrick Mason

2007:Mason's exploits made him one of the move sure-handed targets in the game. His 103 catches were the NFL's third-best, while he topped 1,000 receiving yards for the sixth time in his career.

Forecast:The value of this 12-year veteran is critical. He will again be a leader for the Ravens' receiving corps, both on and off the field.

Mark Clayton

2007:Clayton played in all 16 games last season, but only started 12 after beginning the year with ankle and toe injuries. Still, he managed to finish second on the team with 48 receptions for 531 yards, but failed to reach the end zone. Perhaps the most exciting catch was a 52-yarder against the New England Patriots, which he hauled in at the 3-yard line at the end of regulation for a potential win.

Forecast:With injuries slowing Clayton, his production clearly dropped from a breakout 2006 campaign, where he posted 939 yards and five scores. He has been a regular at the Ravens' offseason conditioning program and is fully healthy, but it seems that when the Ravens only put two wideouts on the field in minicamps, it often was Williams and Mason, with Clayton coming in as the No. 3.

Demetrius Williams

2007:It was a tough sophomore year for the lanky Williams. He saw action in nine contests with four starts, but a high ankle sprain shelved him for the tail end of the season. Williams did average 14.5 yards per catch, with 20 receptions for 290 yards.

Forecast:An Achilles injury pestered Williams for a few Organized Team Activities (OTAs), but when he did get on the field, the third-year veteran was his typical self, snatching balls out of the air with ease. He also added some bulk to his formerly 197-pound frame to endure the rigors of the season. Cameron and Harbaugh have both offered praise of Williams.

Yamon Figurs

2007:Figurs was outstanding as a return specialist, earning a spot on the All-Rookie team, but didn't have many chances to contribute at wideout until the end of the season, when injuries began to take their toll on the rest of the corps. He caught one pass for 36 yards in Miami in Week 15.

Forecast: If minicamps are any indication - and they are - Figurs looks to be more of a special teamer than a receiver.

Matt Willis

2007:Willis played in five games after earning a spot as a rookie free agent. He posted one reception for 11 yards and a key first down, but he also contributed on special teams, where he has two tackles.

Forecast:Willis will have to highlight his special teams toughness if he wants to earn a job. He is still relatively new to football, having played only two years at UCLA, but the speedy wideout is gritty and a hard worker.

Kerry Reed

2007:Reed's relationship with Cameron goes back to last year when the coach headed the Miami Dolphins, but Reed didn't play in any games for the Dolphins as a rookie. He bounced between Miami's practice squad and active roster for most of the year.

Forecast:Reed is in the same boat as Willis. He must be a special teams standout to make the 53-man roster. Still, he is young and could stick around on the practice squad.

Marcus Smith

2007:While at New Mexico, Smith turned himself into one of the premier pass-catchers in the Mountain West, earning All-Conference honors as a senior. Last season, he had a whopping 91 catches for 1,125 yards and four scores. Smith was also a factor in the return game, taking 28 kickoffs for 653 yards, a 23.3-yard average.

Forecast:Talk to Smith, and immediately it's evident that he wants to be the receiver that does the little things in the passing game, like block and catch passes over the middle. Once the stout rookie gets the playbook down, he should be able to make a name for himself on the Ravens' roster.

Justin Harper

2007:The Virginia Tech alumnus had a solid year as a senior. In 14 games (eight starts), he registered career highs in catches (41), receiving yards (635) and touchdwon receptions (five). His biggest game was a win over Florida State when he posted 5 catches for a career-best 167 yards and one score.

Forecast: With Williams working through his Achilles injury, Harper was the one that filled in as the No. 2 receiver, and the Ravens' coaches liked what they saw. He made some tough catches look easy, and stood tall coming across the middle. He could be a surprise of the draft.

Patrick Carter, Ernie Wheelwright

2007:A former quarterback at Georgia Tech, Carter converted to wideout at Louisville. In 2007, he caught a career-high 26 passes for 396 yards and five touchdowns. He also attempted a pass vs. Connecticut, but it was intercepted. Wheelwright's Minnesota career is storied. He registered the second-most catches in school history, reeling in 66 grabs his 66 catches for 775 yards and nine scores through the air, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in three games

Forecast: Both the undrafted free agents will have a tough go, but also must turn heads on special teams with solid play on the edges. Wheelwright has unique height, which he should look to use to his advantage in the end zone during training camp.

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