Mason clears up the future by tidying up the past

April 29, 2007|By RICK MAESE

The NFL draft engages an entire nation of football fans and it's easy to see why. For two days and for every single team, the conversation is all about the future. But for the Ravens, before we can really move full speed ahead, it's probably prudent to straighten the rear-view mirror and make sure there's no old business lingering about, threatening to disrupt the momentum.

If memory serves, there was a small playoff game played a few months ago - Colts vs. Ravens, in case you've psychologically suppressed it - and after the engagement, a certain wide receiver blasted his employer, saying he was frustrated and unappreciated and that ballboys got more touches than he ever did.

Then, with the season over, Derrick Mason disappeared from the public spotlight and didn't emerge again until yesterday.

And so, Mr. Mason, without further ado, are we happy yet?

"As far as what transpired after the season," Mason said yesterday, "it was mostly the situation we were in. I feel like, just like everybody else, that was a game we should have won. We just didn't do enough as a team to win that game. It was just frustrating. Right now, though, that's all behind me."

Whew.

Resume breathing.

Resume playoff planning.

While fans and team officials rave about yesterday's first-round pick, Ben Grubbs, the most important offseason moves all took place prior to draft day: keeping Rex Ryan, learning Jonathan Ogden would return, trading for Willis McGahee and hearing that Mason's end-of-the-season moaning had no effect on his offseason training.

Mason has been in Baltimore working out with a personal trainer. He stops by the team's practice facility in Owings Mills regularly, he says. Still, it's not easy to shake loose how last season ended. Mason caught two passes for 16 yards in the Ravens' disappointing playoff loss. The game fueled his comments at the time but now he says it's motivating his offseason training.

"It takes a while before you let it go," he said yesterday, appearing at the Ravens' Spring Football Festival. "Once the season gets back going again, you can forget about it. But during the offseason, it sticks in your mind. The team we lost to went on to win the Super Bowl, and you feel as an offense and as a team, that we should have won."

Privately, Mason had spent a good chunk of last season voicing his concerns. In the locker room after the loss, he went public with his frustrations. At the time, it sure felt like Mason was saying he'd rather play elsewhere.

"Whether you say it's selfish or not, anybody that's worked in a work force wants to feel appreciated at some point in time," he said then, "and I just didn't feel appreciated at all the whole season. That's what it boils down to."

Mason has since had a chance to chat with Ravens coaches and team officials and says he's looking forward to a better season. The way he sees it, there are no bad feelings on either side.

"[Ozzie Newsome] pretty much knew where I was coming from," Mason said. "You get caught up in what's going on, you're upset about the situation and you say something that you wish you could hold back until you at least have a chance to speak with somebody like Ozzie or Coach Billick. But me and Ozzie had some talks, me and Brian were able to talk and clear a lot of things up. So I'm very optimistic about the upcoming season."

No one knows for certain what Rick Neuheisel's promotion to offensive coordinator will ultimately mean, but it's not unreasonable to think that Mason will be a part of a more dynamic offense. McGahee is much more versatile than Jamal Lewis and can run north-south, east-west or flank out as a receiver.

"Things like that open up the offense," Mason said. "With Jamal we had a fullback the majority of the time, but now you don't have to have a lead blocker all the time. That could mean we have another receiver out there, and we'll have to see, but I think it could help out our passing game."

Mason finished last season with fewer yards and fewer touchdowns than he'd ever posted since becoming a starter. In his last year in Tennessee with Steve McNair, he had 96 receptions for 1,168 yards. Reunited with McNair in Baltimore, Mason had 68 catches for 750 yards.

He still has three years left on a five-year deal. He knows he has no guarantees heading into next season, and all he can really affect, he says, is his attitude and his effort.

"I'm just going to do what I can as a player to make sure I can hold up for 17 or 18 games," he said. "If it comes, it comes. If it doesn't, then you deal with it when it happens. I can't sit here today and say I'll be upset because of something that hasn't happened yet. So I'll deal with it when it happens.

"If it does, I know now how to deal with it better. Last year was one of those situations, you know, I hadn't been in that position in a long time. And I got frustrated. So now, looking back, I know how to handle it if it does occur again."

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Rick Maese -- Points after

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