Mason Distraction Spirals Over Camp

July 27, 2009|By KEVIN COWHERD

As the sun rises over the glamorous Best Western Hotel in Westminster and Ravens rookies report to training camp at nearby McDaniel College, let's talk about distractions.

NFL coaches hate distractions.

And they consider just about everything in life that takes place off the football field to be a distraction.

If the air conditioning in the team meeting room is set 2 degrees warmer than usual, that's a distraction.

If the color-coded playsheets aren't just the right shade of red or green or whatever, that's a distraction.

If the hotel vending machines are out of Diet Coke, that's a distraction.

Which brings us to Derrick Mason.

Think missing your star wide receiver because he's conflicted about playing football is a distraction?

Oh, yeah. That's a major distraction for the Ravens.

So that's what John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens' coaching staff will be dealing with when camp opens today.

And, until Mason officially makes up his mind about whether to stay retired, his absence will dominate this training camp.

Think the media won't beat this to death? The coaches will be asked about Mason incessantly. So will the players.

Poor Joe Flacco, he'll get so many questions about Mason and how his absence affects the offense that his head might start spinning. Same thing might happen with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

No, there's no getting around it. For the Ravens, this is Camp Distraction, thanks to D-Mase, a good guy and a respected teammate who couldn't have picked a worse time to do some soul-searching about his career.

Some people speculate that Mason, if he unretires, wouldn't return until at least the middle of training camp anyway.

Which makes perfect sense to me, even if it doesn't to the Ravens' coaches.

Let's face it, an NFL training camp is not exactly like sitting on a beach in the Bahamas. And Carroll County isn't the garden spot of the mid-Atlantic in late July and early August.

Things can get kind of miserable out there at two-a-days.

It's hot. It's sticky. You've got big guys with hard helmets and thick shoulder pads constantly banging into you and trying to tear your head off.

Not to mention the obligatory free-for-all that always ensues when some crazy, amped-up rookie decks a veteran to make a name for himself, which usually occurs about five minutes into the first workout.

Who wouldn't want to miss a few weeks of that?

If Mason, a 12-year-veteran, decides he would rather skip all that and hang out by his pool sipping cocktails until the middle of August, who could blame him?

Here's another thing that has to concern the Ravens, though.

Let's say Mason does decide to unretire in a couple of weeks.

Let's say he comes to the Ravens at that time and says: "Guys, I don't know what I was thinking. But I'm fired up about football again, so let's get going."

My question is: How do the Ravens know he'll stay fired up?

Look, it's a long season in the NFL. Especially for wide receivers.

They get beaten up. They get injured. They get their bell rung on crossing routes over the middle. Sometimes they get hit so hard they're carted off on stretchers with their necks immobilized, something we've seen all too much of lately.

Pretty soon, if you're a 12-year-vet taking that kind of punishment, retirement might start to look good again.

Pretty soon, a guy who was leaning toward hanging it up a couple of months earlier might find his passion for the game waning again.

At which point, even if he's as talented as Derrick Mason, he starts hurting the team with his performance.

So it'll be interesting to see how this whole drama with Mason plays out.

In the meantime, the Ravens have to get on with camp and pretend it's just like any other camp they've had.

It won't be easy.

Flacco, coming off an outstanding rookie season, now has to try to develop the same rapport with another receiver or two that he had with Mason, who led the team with 80 catches for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns last season.

And the other receivers have to be looking over their shoulders every time they take the field, wondering whether this is the day No. 85 appears again.

Look, I happen to think this could be the year Mark Clayton has a breakout season, especially if Mason stays retired.

But it's hard to figure out the wide receivers until Mason officially decides what he's going to do.

Until then, this is Camp Distraction.

And you know how the coaches must love that.

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