Clayton playing catch-up

But wide receiver, slowed by injuries, values team success more than stats

Ravens

October 13, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

Mark Clayton is not looking to make excuses, only to find solutions. The Ravens wide receiver doesn't memorize the statistics sheet, but he knows his own numbers. He isn't the only member of the offense whose production is lacking this season, but his dip is the most precipitous.

Going into tomorrow's game against the St. Louis Rams at M&T Bank Stadium, the third-year player has caught just 10 passes for 81 yards. Even Quinn Sypniewski, the team's third-string tight end, has two more receptions than Clayton.

"I wouldn't say the stats reflect your role on the team," Clayton said this week after a practice in Owings Mills. "You would like to have the numbers; that would be great. Right now, our offense isn't slinging it down the field all the time."

Slowed by injuries since the preseason and hampered by a pass offense that doesn't take advantage of any deep-threat potential, Clayton acknowledges that his personal struggle is overshadowed by the team's goal.

"For me, it's about winning championships and what can I do to help my team win a championship," Clayton said. "It's just be still and move when asked. When the coaches need something, `Mark we need this play' or whatever, stand up and make that play."

To move toward that goal, the Ravens will have to improve offensively, and they will need a way to find Clayton. Since being drafted in the first round out of Oklahoma with the 22nd overall pick in 2005, Clayton has been the team's most consistent downfield threat.

In the final five games of his rookie season, Clayton caught 24 passes for 324 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown at the Denver Broncos and a 47-yard touchdown two weeks later at home against the Minnesota Vikings. He finished the season with 44 catches for 471 yards.

A year ago, Clayton caught 67 passes for a team-high 939 yards and five touchdowns, including a 62-yarder against the Carolina Panthers, a 65-yarder at the Tennessee Titans and an 87-yarder at the Kansas City Chiefs. He was the only offensive bright spot in a season-ending playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, with six catches for 73 yards.

Then came this season's injuries.

Clayton sprained his ankle in a preseason game against the New York Giants blocking for Mike Anderson. Clayton suffered turf toe in the season-opening loss at the Cincinnati Bengals. He strained an Achilles' tendon in a road loss to the Cleveland Browns two weeks ago. He hasn't missed a game, but he has yet to be a factor.

"That's your base, that's your foundation," Clayton said of the leg and foot injuries. "Any position on the field, you can't do too much with your feet not being right. It's frustrating and tough. I just thank God that I'm making progress and feeling better and just taking steps."

It wasn't just the physical problems that affected Clayton.

"Mentally, it was really tough dealing with that, going into this year with the momentum and the expectations that we had as a team. It's frustrating because you want to make plays and do everything that you can to help," he said.

"At the same time, it's OK because I've been able to learn through my injuries, sitting and watching, seeing how the game's played, different defenses, how things open up. When I go back in, I can remember that and make the plays."

Clayton, who said he is about "85 percent" recovered, has also been stymied by a stagnant offense.

"Our thing is: `First, win the ballgame.' The game dictates what we do as a team," Clayton said. "We've been efficient. We've moved the ball. We just haven't scored like we know we should. Everybody can have their opinions, but we'll get it done. It's not always pretty; Ravens football hasn't always been pretty. If we don't dial them up [go long], so be it."

Ravens receiver Derrick Mason can understand if Clayton is frustrated. Toward the end of last season, Mason saw his production drop drastically, to the point where he voiced his displeasure after the 15-6 playoff loss to the Colts.

Mason, whose NFL-leading 44 catches this season have produced only 372 yards, said Clayton's contributions go beyond the stat sheet.

"You've got to be able to block. You've got to be able to set up your other guys. You've got to be willing to say: `This play isn't for me, but I've got to run my route just as hard on the other side,'" Mason said. "That's what Mark has. For Mark, the numbers will come."

Offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel said Clayton's latest injury isn't the only problem. All the receivers, including Mason and Demetrius Williams, as well as tight ends Todd Heap and Daniel Wilcox, have been limited in practice at times this season.

"When you don't have everybody at full speed for practice, it is difficult to expect it to be all synchronized on Sunday," Neuheisel said Thursday. "It's further compounded by the quarterback [Steve McNair] not being totally healthy. All those things play into it."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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