Thursday Will Offer Insight to Wideouts

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The Ravens were expecting to get an extended look at their backup corps of wide receivers in Thursday night's preseason opener, but the spotlight will be even brighter on the group with recent injuries to Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton.

Mason, the Ravens' leading receiver last year, "jammed [his finger]" in practice on Tuesday, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

While the Ravens "don't anticipate any problems," Mason could miss this week's matchup with the Washington Redskins.

Clayton is dealing with a hamstring injury originally sustained 10 days ago, but he is expected to be fully recovered when the Ravens kick off their 2009 campaign Sept. 13.

"We're not in any hurry to bring him back," Harbaugh said last Thursday.

Even though Demetrius Williams did not practice Tuesday, he could still see some time against the Redskins.

But, that also means the Ravens will have ample reps for players such as Marcus Smith, Justin Harper, Kelley Washington, Ernie WheelwrightYamon FigursJayson Foster and Eron Riley.

Quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't think the recent revolving cast of characters has been an issue.

"We've got a bunch of guys and they're rotating in there anyway," Flacco said. "So, I'm just going back, dropping back, and finding my open guy and trying to throw it to him. It doesn't really matter who it is."

The Ravens believe Thursday - and the rest of the preseason contests - will be a good gauge as to which receiver can take the next step.

It seems that each player has made their share of plays in training camp, especially Smith, Harper, and Washington.

Smith, a special teams stalwart who did not catch a pass as a rookie last year, has shown toughness going over the middle and been a reliable blocker.

"He's a physical player," said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "I think these preseason games are really big for him. The blocking that he does, the crack blocking, his route-running is 10 times as good as it was a year ago.

"We're going to push the ball to him here in the preseason and give him some opportunities to make some plays."

Harper is becoming more confident in himself after a rookie campaign spent on Injured Reserve. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder admitted that he feels more mentally-tough as an NFL sophomore.

"Coach Cameron told me I need to start stringing the good practices together, but I want to make all the catches," Harper said. "I just have to put the good plays behind me and the bad plays behind me, and always work to perfection no matter what."

Washington, 6-foot-3, 217 pounds, brings a veteran presence and a fiery attitude. The 29-year-old is becoming more comfortable with the Ravens' quarterbacks after signing as a free agent in May.

"He brings energy to the wide receiver [position] the way he plays, no doubt," Harbaugh said. "He's big, he's physical and he's done a good job."

Wheelwright caught a touchdown in practice on Tuesday, and Figurs hauled in the session highlight with a 45-yard reaching reception that utilized all of his 4.3 speed. Meanwhile, Foster and Riley have provided solid depth.

Even though Mason's status is uncertain and Clayton will likely be held out, the Ravens believe the Redskins game can actually be a building block. There is a lot to learn about their set of receivers, and Thursday is simply the next step.  

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