Marching On

Wide Receiver Quickly Gets Down To Business

August 03, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

When Derrick Mason made his grand entrance to the practice field Sunday, fans gave him a lengthy ovation and shouted, "Welcome back home."

Every time he caught a pass - whether it was a short toss or a 20-yarder down the middle of the field - a ripple of cheers rose from the crowd.

It was a perfect return for Mason. Well, almost perfect.

"T.O. [Terrell Owens] was in Buffalo not even a day and he got a band," Mason said with a laugh. "I've been here four years and I can't even get the Girl Scouts to come out."

In his first practice since ending a retirement that lasted 20 days, Mason was hitting full stride.

On the field, the team's top receiver didn't drop a pass and didn't show any signs of having off-season shoulder surgery. Off it, he was equally silly and serious - but he was always sincere.

In explaining why he retired on July 13, Mason said that family was the biggest factor but acknowledged the murder of close friend and teammate Steve McNair affected him, too.

"When something like that happens out of the blue, it makes you think about certain things - where your life is headed, where your football career is headed," Mason said. "I think all of those things combined together brought me to that one decision in early July to retire."

Mason, 35, insisted this was a personal decision, not a business one.

He is scheduled to make $3 million in the final year of his contract. His public campaign in March to get an extension caused some to think his retirement announcement was a tactic to get more money.

"When I made it, I was sincere about it," he said. "It wasn't a ploy or anything contractual. It was from the heart. ... I don't want that to be a carrot hanging over my head. People are going to say, 'Well, he just came back for the contract.' I didn't get an extension. I'm coming back to play football and try to win a Super Bowl."

The return of Mason significantly improves the Ravens' chances of achieving that goal.

He has led the Ravens in receptions in three of his four seasons here, averaging 84 catches during that span. He also owns the most 1,000-yard receiving seasons in team history (three).

Mason's presence was certainly needed Sunday, the third day of training camp. By the end of practice, receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams were icing down their hamstrings.

"I've said it from the beginning and I've told Derrick this: 'We're a better football team with Derrick Mason,' " coach John Harbaugh said.

That assertion showed up on the field, when he turned cornerbacks around with some veteran moves.

"Domonique [Foxworth] got a chance to cover Derrick for the first time, and he reminded me of what a great route runner he is - probably the best route runner in the game," Harbaugh said.

Among the Ravens, there have never been any doubts about Mason's route-running ability. And, before his retirement announcement, there had never been any doubts about his passion for the game.

So, is there a chance that Mason might not have the same enthusiasm about playing a few months from now?

"Nah, I told Coach Harbaugh that I was in it 100 percent," he said. "So, I'm not going to go back."

The Ravens tried to have some fun with Mason's comeback Sunday.

Mason previously joked with a team official about wanting the pageantry that greeted Owens. The city of Buffalo welcomed the high-profile receiver this year with a ceremony that included a high school marching band.

But a scheduling conflict kept the Ravens' marching band away.

Instead, Mason walked onto the field hearing the loud cheers of his fans. He lifted his fist and cracked a smile.

"For me to get that applause coming down the walkway here - it felt good, it really felt good," he said. "[But] I was looking for the marching band."

While Mason is committed to this season, there is no certainty that he will play next season. The two-time Pro Bowl player was vague when asked about his future.

"I am just concentrating on this one, honestly," Mason said. "This season is very important to me and this team. I'm not going to look past this season. I'm going to enjoy every day I'm out here. I'm going to enjoy each practice. I'm going to enjoy each game that we have, preseason and regular season.

"I'm going to worry about next year when next year comes. I've got too many problems today to worry about tomorrow."

Today: Practices

at 8:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. (special teams)

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