In new digs, Ravens' Clayton is making himself at home

Receiver is impressive at team's rookie minicamp

Pro Football

April 30, 2005|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

As is his custom, Mark Clayton decided to lay low.

Instead of offering up pep talks to his fellow rookies - which as the highest-drafted player on the Ravens he easily could have - Clayton took the practice field yesterday and did his job in a showing that was as quiet as it was flawless.

Clayton caught every pass he could get his hands on in the first of a two-day, rookies-only minicamp.

"The suddenness, the quickness, the great hands, the cuts in and out of the routes was everything as advertised," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Clayton and 29 of his first-year teammates ran through a number of drills without the assistance of any veterans, something Clayton credits to his rather relaxed demeanor, which led to a near-perfect day.

Though Clayton had just a week to digest the Ravens' basic plays, his routes were smooth, his legs fresh and his burst - which he used to separate from defenders - in midseason form.

"A lot of the older guys came in and got thrown straight into the fire," Clayton said of past opening camps that included the veterans. "They had to learn everything on the run. This is awesome. I've learned so much, and I can sit down and process the information they gave me. That way when the veterans do come in, I'll be ready to fly around with them."

Clayton looked at home in the Ravens' complex, something his ex-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma suspected would be the case. Chuck Long is responsible for calling the plays that allowed Clayton to break all of Oklahoma's major receiving records, including catches (221) and touchdowns (31).

Oklahoma ran many plays from spread formations in the shotgun, but Long credits the environment around the program, which has played in back-to-back BCS national title games, for Clayton's NFL readiness.

"He's coming from a pro style offense or as close to a pro style you're going to get in college," Long said. "He's going to come in and have a good part of the playbook down. He'll have an immediate impact."

Such was the case with the Sooners when Clayton started eight games as a redshirt freshman and caught 46 passes for 524 yards, both school records.

Long said he knew the school had a special player during Clayton's junior year, when he caught a record 83 passes for 1,425 yards and 15 touchdowns. Clayton failed to duplicate that success his senior season (66 catches, 876 yards, eight touchdowns), but Long credits that more to a switch in offensive philosophy than teams catching up with Clayton.

Freshman running back Adrian Peterson ran for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns as the Sooners switched from a four-receiver set to a standard two-back formation.

The Sooners also had first-day draft choice receivers Mark Bradley and Brandon Jones catching their share of passes.

"Mark's numbers his junior year were out of this world," said Long, who played nine seasons as a quarterback in the NFL. "We averaged 50 points a game and were No. 1 in the nation in offense. But we wanted a more balanced attack. We didn't have much balance his junior year.

"With Adrian here, it naturally meant Mark's numbers went down. But we felt we needed more balance, and I think it kept Mark healthier."

Come the regular season, Clayton will have a similar strong running game under Jamal Lewis. He will also have veteran Pro Bowl receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap and quarterback Kyle Boller in his ear in the huddle.

None of those players is around now, but Clayton is not assuming the vocal leadership role among the rookies. He figures it is better to show, not tell.

"At Oklahoma, I was a leader, but I wasn't a vocal leader," Clayton said. "I just made sure I was on time and at the right place at the right time. I didn't make mistakes. Guys watch that and notice that and they used to say, `Why doesn't Coach yell at you all the time?' Well he's got no reason to yell at me because I don't mess up. And now I want to be efficient in whatever I'm doing."

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