Baltimore Ravens' rumor mill

OWINGS MILLS -- The latest facts, observations and rumors emanating from One Winning Drive:

1. Team officials are extremely impressed with veteran quarterback Steve McNair's conditioning level. McNair has lost several pounds since the end of last season. While his mobility appears to be upgraded, his arm strength also looks better. The going theory is that McNair's arm was tired by the end of last season.

Don't look for a dramatic difference, but McNair is definitely primed for a better season. His increased knowledge of the offense should also pay major dividends since he'll have a full offseason to prepare this time.

2. While reserve quarterback Drew Olson has his supporters, including fellow former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel, the Ravens' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, it would represent a major upset if Olson is able to beat out Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith for the Ravens' third-string quarterback job.

Yes, Olson is doing a good job in NFL Europe and he definitely qualifies as scrappy, his arm strength and mobility don't approach Smith's skill sets. Nor will the financial investment the Ravens make in Smith as compared to Olson, an undrafted free agent.

3. Rookie wide receiver and return specialist Yamon Figurs has caught the ball better than initially expected. He's still a developmental project at receiver and stands a much better chance of unseating incumbent B.J. Sams returning punts and kickoffs. Whatever he does at receiver as a deep threat has to be viewed as a luxury, not a given. His speed is rare, so they need to find a way to exploit his abilities to their fullest.

4. Underperforming wide receivers Devard Darling and Clarence Moore are both under the gun. Moore caught only two passes for one yard and a touchdown last year. A former third-round draft pick, Darling hasn't caught a pass since his rookie campaign in 2004 when he registered his only two NFL receptions for five yards. Both are scheduled to make $850,000 under one-year restricted tenders. Don't be shocked if one of them gets cut. My money would be on Darling not making it because Moore's size differentiates himself from the wideout pack.

5. Derrick Mason has calmed down considerably since his rants at the end of the season. I think he's beginning to accept that his role is changing. Mason is a smart guy and I chalk up a lot of his remarks to frustration from the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. One team official joked that it would be a good idea for Steve McNair to throw Mason a lot of footballs that day in practice before he does another group interview.

Like all star wide receivers, even fading ones, Mason has a little bit of diva in him. Unlike other NFL glitterati, Mason is a completely team-oriented sort who has the full respect of the locker room. Contrary to popular belief, griping about something doesn't always hurt a player's credibility with his teammates. Sometimes, an athlete's willingness to speak his mind can enhance credibility in the locker room. Mason is an established veteran who never lets his personal discontent affect how he treats his teammates.

It's a subtle, fine line to recognize. Father Time and the advancement of youth are never easy things to deal with. I predict a quieter Derrick Mason this season, at least off the field. He'll still tell it like it he sees it, which is refreshing for beat writers.

6. Demetrius Williams and Mark Clayton have absolutely stolen the show at the first two minicamps and appear primed for big seasons. Both have the athleticism and route-running ability to befuddle defenders. I want to see how they fare when Samari Rolle, Chris McAlister and Ed Reed show up for minicamp duty.

7. So far, running back Willis McGahee appears to be as advertised: a leaner, younger and better pass-catcher than Jamal Lewis. Let's see how he does when he needs to grind out the tough yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers, though.

8. If I had to rank the running backs on a depth chart, it would look like this: 1. McGahee, 2. Musa Smith, 3. Mike Anderson, 4. P. J. Daniels, 5. Cory Ross, 6. Greg Pruitt Jr.

9. Fullback Justin Green has made a nice recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is trying to hold off bullish rookie blocker Le'Ron McClain for the starting job. Neither should have as big a role as Ovie Mughelli since McGahee is much more comfortable operating out of one-back sets than Lewis, who was a devotee of the old-school I-formation.

10. Tight end Todd Heap didn't undergo any offseason surgeries and seems to have gotten back to his old ability to accelerate out of a plant and cut. His ankle seems fine, which represents bad news for opposing linebackers and safeties. As offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel reiterated, Heap is a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators to contend with. Depth isn't an issue at this spot with Daniel Wilcox and Quinn Sypniewski under contract.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland along with the Annapolis Capital.

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