Ravens banking on Boller-to-Mason

WESTMINSTER -- Kyle Boller tilted his head slightly to the right and gripped the football tightly above his shoulder pads as his eyes scanned the field for his primary target. Simultaneously, Derrick Mason stutter-stepped to the outside and froze cornerback Samari Rolle before accelerating toward the middle of the field on a post patter. The sudden move put him directly in Boller's line of sight.

Uncorking an accurate, hard spiral that Mason cradled in stride for a 40-yard touchdown, Boller pumped his fist after the touchdown and high-fived quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel.

It was a well-executed strike during training camp this week at McDaniel College with absolutely no blitz to contend with, but it was the sort of crisp play that the Baltimore Ravens hope signals the launch of a burgeoning connection.

As the Ravens scrimmage the Washington Redskins on Saturday at noon at M&T Bank Stadium, the organization is banking on Boller-to-Mason becoming a familiar phrase of success in Baltimore.

"I think it's going really well," Boller said of developing chemistry with Mason, a two-time Pro Bowl selection this off-season to a five-year, $20 million contract. "I was able to come out and hook up with him a few times. It's just becoming easier for the two of us."

For Boller, throwing to Mason -- a reliable, compact wide receiver -- grants him security beyond his familiar comfort zone of throwing mostly to tight end Todd Heap.

For Mason, 31, who led all NFL receivers last season with 96 receptions, he's becoming accustomed to catching passes from a different quarterback.

With the Tennessee Titans, Mason averaged 81 catches and 1,100 yards per season since 2000 when he became a full-time starter.

The common thread for Mason, though, were sharp throws from former NFL Co-MVP Steve McNair, a veteran passer who has proved himself in this league unlike Boller.

"It's different in the sense that me and Steve had been playing together for a long time," Mason said. "He knew what I liked and I knew what he liked. I knew where he liked to put the ball. Having that rapport is the biggest difference.

"I'm getting it with Kyle. On a couple of the routes, he knew what I was doing. The more he's able to throw it to me, I think he'll get a feel for what we like to do."

A major part of the equation is Boller improving his accuracy. He has averaged only 54.4 percent for his career.

First-year offensive coordinator Jim Fassel wants to see Boller complete 63 to 64 percent of his throws, a fairly lofty goal.

"I've always felt accurate," Boller said. "Now that I have a real good understanding of this offense, I feel comfortable that my accuracy will improve because I know where to go with the ball.

"I can drop back and go from one to two to three and deliver the ball. I mean that's my job: to be accurate. I just need to decide where."

With increased accuracy, Fassel says, will come increased trust.

Once Fassel feels like Boller truly gets the offense, then the offense will become far more aggressive with more vertical routes for Mason and Co.

"We're going to let it go," Boller said. "We're really going to throw the ball around. Derrick Mason is a heck of a player and is going to catch a lot of balls."

Throwing to Mason is an ideal choice.

Over the past two seasons, Mason's 191 receptions are only surpassed by one receiver: St. Louis Rams All-Pro Torry Holt, who caught 211.

Will Mason's numbers decrease, though, in a run-oriented offense built around former NFL Offensive Player of the Year Jamal Lewis?

When the Ravens signed veteran receivers Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson in 2003, they combined for only 45 receptions and 621 yards and lasted only one year in Baltimore.

After a trade for All-Pro Terrell Owens was nullified, the Ravens traded for Kevin Johnson last year. His production dipped to 35 catches, leading the team, after averaging 66 receptions in his previous five seasons. His contract was terminated at his request this winter.

Nevertheless, the Ravens predict big things with Mason, the first top-flight receiver Boller has ever worked with as he enters his third NFL season.

"A true professional," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's a great veteran presence to have in a receiver corps that we haven't had in a while. It's a nice luxury."

Mason chose the Ravens over the mighty New England Patriots, taking a chance on a 31st-ranked passing game and a young quarterback who was the second-to-lowest rated passer in the AFC last year.

"I'm very excited that they've given me the opportunity to come here, because they had their pick of the litter," Mason said. "They showed a lot of interest in me to come here and help out the offense.

"I'm just going to continue to do what I've been doing for the last eight or nine years. That's just to be consistent. They know what they're getting from me each and every day."

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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