Stay-at-home Clayton starts to rule roost

Quiet lifestyle helps Ravens rookie to stay strong, improve his game

December 16, 2005|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

At the end of nearly every workday, Ravens rookie Mark Clayton heads home, holes up in his room and stays there. What goes on there is part of the reason Clayton has elevated his play the past two games, making 14 receptions for 191 yards and his first touchdown of the season.

"I'm not a go-outer. My brother lives with me, but I'm in the room by myself," Clayton said.

"I always spend about six or seven hours just playing [the Madden NFL video game] on Xbox, PlayStation. It's been good for me. It's kept me out of trouble and helps with the hand-eye coordination."

There is the obligatory food run for Clayton, who eschews cooking and alternates between Bonefish Grill and Subway. There is the occasional team-oriented appearance. But by and large, Clayton says he doesn't go anywhere or do anything other than enjoy the comforts of his room, one equipped with Internet access that keeps him tuned in to the outside world.

Clayton exchanges instant messages with fellow receiver Derrick Mason and talks on the phone to close friend and Cleveland Browns safety Brodney Pool, all while keeping movements to a minimum.

Leading such a rudimentary lifestyle is the reason Clayton feels he has gotten stronger at a time in the season when many rookies fade away.

"I rejuvenate myself and feel better at home and get ready for [practice] tomorrow," Clayton said.

Although he will not say so, practices and games have got to be more fun for Clayton. The Ravens have increasingly worked Clayton into the offense every week, culminating in Sunday's loss to the Denver Broncos, when he attempted a shovel pass from quarterback, ran a reverse and got 10 passes thrown his way.

Clayton helped bring the Ravens within two points after catching a 39-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Boller in the final minutes of the game. That the Ravens would call a play for him in such a critical situation was reminiscent of the previous week, when Clayton took a crossing route 35 yards on an all-out blitz to help set up the game-winning field goal against the Houston Texans.

"His confidence has gone up, and the other players' confidence in him [has] gone up, which always happens the more you make plays," receivers coach David Shaw said. "We all knew he can make plays, but it is different when you can make plays in crunch time."

The Ravens struggled to find a viable second option at wide receiver behind Mason the first half of the season, but they might now have one for the foreseeable future in Clayton.

Clayton, in fact, became the go-to receiver the past two games, something not lost on Mason. Mason let loose his displeasure after the Broncos game, saying he feels more like a running back because of the short routes he's being asked to run.

"That's over with," Mason said. "That was four days ago. The comments were made, they were said, and that's the gist of it. I'm not going to linger on those topics. I think everyone knows how I feel, and now I know how everyone else feels, meaning coaches."

Mason went on to imply that he knows why the team is featuring the younger players. Mason, who has a combined nine catches for 85 yards the past two games, trailed Clayton in receptions and yards in each.

"As I player, I've got to understand the position they're in as a staff and what they're trying to do," Mason said. "I've got to be sensitive to that and aware of what is going on. A player being frustrated, yeah, that's going to happen sometimes, but don't let your frustrations kill a locker room."

However Mason feels about his use, he is not taking it out on Clayton. Clayton credits Mason as his biggest influence and a major reason he has been able to make plays the past few games.

Another explanation, though, lies within Clayton and his low-key lifestyle.

"I take care of my body," Clayton said.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

Packers@Ravens Monday, 9 p.m., chs. 2, 7, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Ravens by 3 1/2

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