Mason fighting off Father Time

WESTMINSTER -- Seven months ago, Derrick Mason was a smoldering volcano with his frustration bubbling over inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room. Disgruntled over not being heavily involved in the Ravens' offense, the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver didn't attempt to hide his raw emotions following a playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts where he caught only two passes.

It was a case of a veteran player angry over an opportunity lost, and flustered by his reduced role with the advancement of younger targets Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams.

"It has been frustrating from the standpoint of working so hard in the offseason and then, in the season, it's like you just don't feel appreciated," Mason said after a 15-6 defeat at M&T Bank Stadium that ended the AFC North champions' season. "Whether it's right or wrong, whether you say it's selfish or not, anyone in the workplace wants to feel appreciated at some point and I just didn't.

"As a worker, you must feel appreciated to play at maximum peak. At times, I just didn't feel like they considered me a playmaker. I feel the same way again: frustrated."

One day later, Mason didn't back down from those angst-filled remarks.

Although trade rumors surfaced in the aftermath of Mason's rant, the Ravens didn't take action to cut or trade the veteran wideout. Instead, coach Brian Billick and general manager Ozzie Newsome met with Mason to hear out his complaints.

As the Ravens completed their second day of training camp Tuesday in Westminster, Mason appears to be relatively content and extremely eager to prove he's still got it after celebrating his 34th birthday in January.

"I expressed my dissatisfaction with what was going on," Mason said. "Maybe I should have expressed myself in a different manner, but it's over and done with. I've talked with Ozzie and coach Billick, and now it's behind us."

Mason signed a five-year, $20 million contract in 2005 that included a $7 million signing bonus to become the Ravens' go-to receiver. However, his statistics diminished last year with Clayton and Williams' emergence.

One year after leading the team with 86 catches for 1,073 yards Mason finished second with 68 receptions for 750 yards and two touchdowns. It was his lowest reception total since 2000 when he caught 63 passes.

For the moment, the damage control since Mason's blowup seems to be working.

When asked about Mason's attitude, Billick replied: "Excellent, always has been. As long as he'll do what he's doing on the field, which is always working hard in practice, focused in meetings and competing on gameday, Derrick and I have a great relationship."

Entering his 11th season, Mason remains a fiery competitor.

He's caught 607 career passes for 7,937 yards and 42 touchdowns and is still known as a punishing blocker despite being only 5-foot-10, 192 pounds.

How much left does he have in the tank as he battles Clayton and Williams in the pecking order?

"We're all here competing, and I feel like I'm still at a top level," Mason said. "I still feel like I'm in great condition, so I'm not going to take a back seat to anybody.

"I'm not going to let someone say, 'Well, you're a certain age, you should be doing this or doing that.' I feel a lot younger than my age. If we can get everyone in the same mindset, then we'll be okay."

For Mason, who remains in chiseled condition through a disciplined workout regimen and diet, it's all about a desire to defy his age.

It remains to be seen how long Mason, who has three years remaining on his contract, will last. But he's already beaten the odds since most NFL players' average career is about 3 1/2 seasons, according to NFL Players Association figures.

"A prime example is Jerry Rice, he didn't buy into it," Mason said. "You said he was 36 and old, but the guy kept playing at a high level. Darrell Green, you say the guy was 40 years old and old.

"No, he still ran a 4.3 and was out there being competitive. If you allow someone to put you in a box, then that's where you'll be."

As the Ravens try to generate a more explosive passing game by installing more three wide receiver alignments, Mason is likely to be utilized heavily as the inside slot receiver with Clayton and Williams operating outside and running deeper patterns.

Sure-handed and durable, Mason is confident that he'll excel regardless of where he lines up.

"I'm the type of guy who can play inside or outside, it doesn't matter to me," Mason said. "You want to put me inside and match me up with a third corner or a linebacker, I'm going to take advantage of it. Then, they're going to have to move their best defensive back inside. Especially with the guys we've got outside.

"We have a lot of versatility in our passing game. We're going to have fun and we're going to score a lot of points."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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