After a five-day holdout that ended Saturday when he signed a five-year, $8.2
million contract that included $5.75 million in guaranteed money, the Baltimore Ravens' rookie wide receiver is undergoing a rough initiation akin to pledging
an elite fraternity.
"We're going to wear his scrawny little butt out," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who still appears highly frustrated after his first-round draft pick skipped 10 practices and a scrimmage. "I wish representation would look at the bigger picture.
"When a guy comes in late to camp, he quadruples his chance for injury because he has to catch up. That's where you're at risk when you let your representation take over."
Clayton participated in his first training camp practice Monday at McDaniel College on a limited basis, and was held out of team drills as a precautionary measure. Billick said that Clayton is likely to take part fully beginning Wednesday morning.
The team is going to take a cautious approach with the former Oklahoma standout since he struggled with hamstring problems during minicamps.
"I love it, it's awesome, it's everything that I heard about the rookies having to pay their dues," said Clayton while hauling three sets of teammates' shoulder pads off the field. "I have to come out here and go at my pace, I'm a week behind and I'm not going to gain a week on them in one day.
"I'm really good at learning from watching and I learned a lot. When they put me in, hopefully I'll be up to pace with them and there won't be so much of a drop-off."
Clayton spent the majority of his first day observing, taking a few turns catching punts and catching passes during an individual period.
Intellectually, offensive coordinator Jim Fassel said he has no concerns about Clayton overcoming the learning curve.
"Mark showed me he's a very smart guy," Fassel said. "He understands the game and has a feel for it. I don't think it's going to be a long process. I think Mark will catch on very quick.
"The biggest thing is he's got to get timing with Kyle Boller and that's critical. He's a great young man and we've got to get him involved quickly."
Throughout practice, the Arlington, Texas, native kept lobbying Billick to insert him into team drills.
However, the coach wouldn't budge.
"When Billick would look back, I was like, ‘Hey, look at me,'" Clayton said. "But he said, ‘No, you're going to sit back.' We still have four preseason games before the first game, so I feel like that's quite a lot of time to learn everything that we're putting in and catch up with the guys' speed."
Apparently, there are no hard feelings about Billick's daily rants about a contract dispute that hinged on guaranteed money and escalator clauses that could earn Clayton as much as an additional $2.7 million in salary in the fifth year of the deal.
Becoming the latest member of Billick's doghouse is something Clayton seems poised to meet with hard work and a grin.
"I only saw one clip," Clayton said. "I just smiled and knew that I had to get out there and do my job."
Teammates were far more conciliatory toward the rookie. Especially his landlord: Boller. The starting quarterback quipped that Clayton probably already knows the entire offense from practicing the John Madden video game.
"I was in that same situation to have to hold out, but he wanted to be here," said Boller, who engaged in a brief holdout two years ago. "He was in his playbook. Now, we can move forward."
Will the rookie have to start paying rent now that his holdout is over?
"He will have to start paying rent," Boller said. "No, he just has to catch balls."
For Clayton, 22, the royal treatment from veterans included the usual cracks about whether he knew where the practice field was located and extensive discussion of dinner plans. As Clayton noted, there goes his signing bonus.
"Oh my gosh, the first day I came here they were saying, "Clayton, we're going to dinner right?'" Clayton said. "Everybody else was like, ‘Yeah, I'm coming, too."
Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Derrick Mason has already stated his dining preferences. That likely means a hefty splurge at a high-end restaurant with Clayton picking up the check.
"I like steak," Mason said. "It's going to hit Mark pretty hard in the wallet, but he can afford it now."
By the end of his first day, Clayton was soaking wet and his teeth were chattering after Boller and backup quarterback Anthony Wright poured a tub of soapy ice water over his head during a live televised interview at the team hotel.
"Oh my Lord," Clayton exclaimed after the Ravens' traditional touch of rookie hazing. "They got me!"
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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