The return of Derrick Mason to the Baltimore Ravens this weekend was a welcome one. 80-catch, 1,000 yard receivers are hard to come by in the NFL, but it doesn’t change what should be the M.O. for the remaining wide receivers should be focused on: step up, and play a key role in the offense in 2009.
The Ravens have expressed their confidence in the batch on many occasions, before and after Mason’s retirement. Many of them remain unproven, however. Mark Clayton has been a solid starter, but has not put up the spectacular numbers one may expect from a former first-round draft pick.
Demetrius Williams had a solid rookie year but has finished the last two seasons on Injured Reserve. Marcus Smith only played in five games in 2008 and Justin Harper’s rookie season ended before it began last year, after being put on IR during training camp.
Kelley Washington, while a veteran, only had one catch in 2008, and may be more of a special teams contributor this season.
While that may make Mason's return all that more integral for 2009, the Ravens never flinched on where their corps stood.
“I’ve said it from the beginning and I’ve told Derrick this: We’re a better football team with Derrick Mason,” said head coach John Harbaugh one day after the veteran’s return. “We though we’d be a good team no matter what, but we’re better with Derrick.”
Mason’s presence will help further the development of second-year quarterback Joe Flacco, who developed a strong rapport with Mason in his rookie year. But he is only one cog in an offense with Super Bowl expectations for 2009.
Clayton has never had a true quarterback to catch the ball from, and with Flacco entrenched as the starter for the second year, both could blossom under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Williams has the size and speed the Ravens covet, and even bulked up in the offseason, but he needs to stay healthy to prove he can be a contributor.
Smith and Harper did not have many chances to shine last year, but Smith impressed the coaches during mini-camps and Harper has made an early impact on practice during the first week of training camp at McDaniel College.
With so much potential, it’s easy to see why Ozzie Newsome and company have stuck to their guns and not reached out for Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall, both high-profile receivers who sought trades in the offseason.
But at least one of these young talents needs to prove their trust was warranted. Mason cannot do it alone.
Fans are clamoring for an impact receiver to take the Ravens to the next level. The hope of the many lies in the hands of these few.