Ravens' Clayton standing tall

OWINGS MILLS -- With all of Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick's frequent references to personal growth in a season gone terribly awry, the analogy might be most applicable to one of the shortest players on the roster. Rookie wide receiver Mark Clayton is emerging as one of the Ravens' top downfield targets.

Especially after the 5-foot-10, 195-pound former Oklahoma standout's 35-yard catch-and-run with 10 seconds left that provided the necessary field position for kicker Matt Stover to boot the game-winning field goal in the Ravens' 16-15 victory Sunday over the Houston Texans.

"I think it boosts your confidence," two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Derrick Mason said following Clayton's career and game-high seven catches for 86 yards. "Not just this game, but for the rest of the season knowing that, ‘I made that big catch. I helped my team win a game. Now that I've done it, I can do it again.'

"Not that he lacks any confidence, but I think it had to happen for him so he can go out and play without hesitation. On that last play, he just let his natural abilities take over."

Clayton, who also caught an 11-yard pass for a first down in traffic on the decisive drive, recognized an all-out blitz was coming and communicated by exchanging glances with quarterback Kyle Boller. Then, the rookie adeptly eluded safety C.C. Brown in the open field and dashed down to the Texans' 10-yard line. Plus, the first-round draft pick had the presence of mind to get out of bounds and leave enough time for Stover's 38-yard field goal.

"The team has faith in me that I can make that play," Clayton said. "The fact that I did makes me feel good. It shows that hard work pays off.

"I can't tell you how many thousands of times we've run that play. To see it actually work for us was great because it was based on hard work. When your number is called, you step up and do it."

For Clayton, the strong finish spelled redemption from his two long-distance drops earlier in the game.

The miscues didn't fluster him, though. He kept his mind in the game.

Afterward, Clayton conducted himself in his usual subdued, quiet personality.

"You know me, I'm a low-key guy," the Texas native said. "I'm not going to get too excited or show my feelings much at all. Trust me, I'm real happy."

As are the Ravens with their investment of the 22nd overall pick in Clayton.

After nagging hamstring and ankle injuries and a week-long holdout in training camp that initially hampered his progress, Clayton is beginning to flash the form that made him a consensus All-American as the Sooners' all-time leader in receptions (221), yards (3,241) and touchdown catches (31) and 100-yard receiving games (15).

With 27 receptions for 241 yards, Clayton is two catches shy of breaking the Ravens' rookie record for catches held by departed first-round pick Travis Taylor (28 in 2000). Clayton is on pace for 36 receptions for 321 yards, which would also break the team's rookie mark for receiving yards.

"I always knew Mark was going to be great," tight end Daniel Wilcox said. "That was just the beginning of things to come for him.

"He's going to be an excellent player in this league and an exciting guy to watch week in and week out. If I could tell any fan, I'd say, ‘Keep your eye on No. 89.'

NOTES: The Ravens placed cornerback Zach Norton (shoulder) on injured reserve and replaced him on the active roster with rookie cornerback Evan Oglesby, who was on the Buffalo Bills' practice squad. Plus, the team signed offensive tackle Rob Droege (Missouri) to the practice squad. … No announcement was made regarding middle linebacker Ray Lewis (torn hamstring), who's expected to miss the remainder of the season after being out the past six games. ... Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is the NFL Defensive Player of the Week for registering a career-high three sacks against the Texans.
 

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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