Ravens seeking yards after the catch

OWINGS MILLS – There was obvious hesitancy where an aggressive, sudden approach was the ideal. There was admittedly a degree of shyness about challenging head-hunting safeties in their domain across the middle. In general last season, the Baltimore Ravens' wide receivers failed to fulfill one of their primary job requirements: catching the football in stride and gaining significant yardage after the catch.

"It was an element of football that hasn't been in our offense," receivers coach David Shaw said Tuesday at the Ravens' passing camp. "We're attacking it. We want to get guys the ball while they're on the run: catch it and get up the field.

"We don't want a lot of static, stationary routes. We want to give them a chance to use their God-given ability."

Between the arrivals of Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton – two swift receivers who specialize in quick upfield cuts after receptions -- and a game plan by new offensive coordinator Jim Fassel that emphasizes motion and crisp timing patterns, the Ravens are optimistic about reversing this negative trend.

The Ravens averaged only 9.9 yards per catch last season, ranking 31st in the NFL in passing yards per play as quarterback Kyle Boller averaged just 5.52 yards per attempt.

Randy Hymes and Travis Taylor led the receivers with 12.4 yards per catch apiece, and none of the Ravens ranked in the top 20 in the AFC for yards after the catch. Not coincidentally, the Ravens' total passing offense ranked second-to-last in the league.

A common sight last season was watching the Ravens' receivers catch the ball and promptly fall down. At 6-foot-6 and a spindly 211 pounds as a rookie, Clarence Moore was ill-suited for heavy-duty contact.

"As a rookie, I was a little hesitant in waiting for what kind of hit you're going to get," said Moore, who has bulked up to 223 pounds. "Now, I'm not worried about it."

By signing Mason, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and using a first-round draft pick on Clayton, a shifty All-American from Oklahoma, the Ravens hope their ability to gain yards after the catch will undergo a dramatic turnaround.

"When they run their routes and catch the ball, they can do things," Fassel said. "You can just see that when they get their hands on the ball. What you want to see is the coaches on the other sideline holding their breath."

Mason has made a living for eight years in the NFL going across the middle, splitting seams in zones, avoiding defenders and dashing for extra real estate after receptions.

Mason led all NFL receivers last season with 96 receptions to produce 1,168 yards and seven touchdowns. On 453 career receptions, he has averaged 13.5 yards per catch. With his background as a return specialist, he has gained 11,202 all-purpose yards.

How Mason regularly evades defenders with his speed and moves also comes back to his knowledge of the game.

"I think it's just an attitude and awareness of where you're at," Mason said. "A lot of guys catch the ball and they really don't where they're at or where the defender is.

"What I try to do is catch the ball and get upfield as quickly as possible. Whether you get hit or make one yard, at least you're not standing still."

Both Mason and Clayton are similar in height and build at 5-foot-10, 192 pounds and 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, respectively, and change directions faster than larger receivers with their superior lateral movement.

At Oklahoma, Clayton averaged a touchdown every seven receptions. Thirty of his 66 catches last season were for first downs. He caught 15 touchdowns as a junior when he registered 83 catches for 1,425 yards and holds all of the Sooners' career receiving records.

"Heart and wanting to get it done," Clayton said of his ability to escape tackles. "You go out and catch a ball and you can easily let somebody tackle you, but your will to get to the end zone should exceed his will to tackle you. We're going to make a lot of plays in this offense."

Toward their goal of injecting elusiveness outside, the Ravens have also moved running back/return specialist B.J. Sams to slot receiver.

On the chalkboard in the receivers' meeting room, Shaw has written down his point of emphasis – RUN AFTER THE CATCH – in large block letters. He's also charting every single catch in practice on a daily basis.

"Part of it you can't teach, but we've pinpointed a couple of guys that can add that personality and skills so we can incorporate this into our offense," Shaw said. "We want to be as good as anybody in the league at running after the catch and maximize the yards."

NOTE: The Ravens released veteran outside linebacker Cornell Brown after he failed his physical.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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