Ravens Play The Waiting Game

After Meeting With Mason, Harbaugh 'Hopeful' Veteran Receiver Will Return For Camp

July 24, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

A week before the first full-team practice at Ravens training camp, the team's wide receiver position remains up in the air.

The Ravens still don't know whether Derrick Mason will rescind his decision to retire or whether any of the receivers trying out today will pan out (though Drew Bennett is the early favorite, according to a team source).

Perhaps the best-case scenario is adding a veteran before training camp and welcoming back Mason during the first couple of weeks, a combination that would patch up a questionable group at wide receiver for second-year quarterback Joe Flacco.

Coach John Harbaugh said Thursday that he's hopeful Mason will return but that he couldn't predict what the team's No. 1 receiver will do. On Tuesday night, Harbaugh had a "man-to-man" talk with Mason at the receiver's house - their first sit-down since Mason's retirement announcement July 13 - and they discussed everything from his family to the team to the death of Steve McNair.

Harbaugh told The Baltimore Sun that he couldn't put a percentage on the chances of Mason coming back.

"I don't have an opinion on whether he'll be back because I have no idea," Harbaugh said. "Nothing's changed, and Derrick was very clear about that through our conversation.

"I'm hopeful that he'll be back because he's a good player. A Derrick Mason who is fully committed and focused on football makes us a better team."

Mason did not return phone calls from The Sun. His agent has said that the earliest Mason would speak to the news media would be the end of the month.

Veteran players report Wednesday to Ravens training camp. The first full-team practice open to the public is next Friday.

Asked whether the team has set a deadline for Mason to make a final decision, Harbaugh said, "We're staying away from that now. That's between Derrick's agent and [Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome]."

The Ravens are being careful not to pressure Mason. The team probably could wait until mid-August for Mason's decision because he likely would have been limited the first couple of weeks anyway (he is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery).

Team officials probably are taking a sensitive approach because they believe Mason's announcement was motivated by a personal situation. There had been speculation earlier that Mason, who is entering the final year of his contract, was trying to gain leverage for a new deal.

After talking to Mason on Tuesday, Harbaugh said it was clear that the receiver's announcement "wasn't a tactic of any kind."

"We love him and care about him," Harbaugh said. "I told him that we want him on our team but we respect his decision either way."

Even if Mason changes his mind, Harbaugh said the Ravens would add another veteran "if we can find the right guy." According to a team source, the two most recognizable names for today's four-player tryout are Bennett and D.J. Hackett.

Bennett, 30, has averaged 14.4 yards per catch for his career and could become a deep threat for Flacco. The biggest question is Bennett's health. He had only one reception last season for the St. Louis Rams after injuring his foot in the season opener.

Hackett, 28, has averaged nearly 30 catches a season, but there's a question of whether he would fit with the Ravens because he's worked predominantly in West Coast offenses.

"There are some options out there that could possibly help us," Harbaugh said.

Mason, 35, has been the team's most dependable receiver, leading the Ravens in catches during three of his four seasons with them. Since he left the Tennessee Titans to join the Ravens, Mason has recorded the three highest single-season totals for catches (103 in 2007, 86 in 2005 and 80 in 2008).

Without Mason, the Ravens have a void at receiver. The top four receivers on the roster - Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith and Kelley Washington - combined for 55 catches and four touchdowns last season.

"I think Derrick will give us an honest decision," Harbaugh said. "If he comes back, it will be full-go, 100 percent. If he doesn't, it'll be full-go, 100 percent into the next phase of his life. He's kind of at a fork in the road, and he wants to make the best possible decision."

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston contributed to this article.

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