Mason: "I'm going to finish this thing"

WESTMINSTER -- The applause from the stands built into a crescendo for Baltimore Ravens veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason, especially when he slid across the wet turf at McDaniel College to snag a low Joe Flacco spiral and throughout Sunday morning as he displayed his textbook routes and trademark sound hands.

Between the fans' adulation and his teammates' good-natured digs about all the time off he had from practice while contemplating retirement, Mason was a happy man.

Following a serious life crossroads marked by soul-searching and uncertainty, the two-time Pro Bowl selection was in a good enough mood to jokingly complain about a lack of fanfare surrounding his arrival. He wanted the Terrell Owens treatment, referencing how the Buffalo Bills' star wide receiver was greeted at the airport by a marching band.

"They promised me a band," Mason said with a smile. "Shoot, T.O. was in Buffalo a day and he went to the airport and got a band. I'm like, 'Man, I've been here for four years and I can't even get the Girl Scouts to come out. That's bad, man."

In all seriousness, though, football is a major relief to Mason at this time.

The 35-year-old has been through a difficult period where he dealt with personal family issues, mourned the death of his close friend and former teammate Steve McNair and also dealt with the frustration of an unmet request for a contract extension as he enters the final year of a five-year, $20 million contract.

For Mason, McNair's murder offered a sobering reminder about how precious life and family are. He announced his retirement days after attending McNair's funeral.

"It impacted my decision on whether to continue to play or retire," Mason said. "When something like that happens out of the blue, it makes you think about certain things, where your life is headed, where your football career. That was a factor, but there were a lot of other things that were a factor also and all of those things combined together brought me to that one decision to retire."

Mason announced his retirement on July 13 and actually filed his retirement papers with the league in a procedural move to avoid being fined after being placed on the reserve/did not report list.

At the time of his announcement, it seemed a bit orchestrated with Mason issuing a statement through a Web site owed by his agents nearly approximately when he left the Ravens' training complex.

"I just wanted to make an informed decision about retirement, when I made it was I was sincere about it," Mason said. "It wasn't a ploy or anything contractual. It was a decision I made from the heart. I think it sends a good message to my children to finish what you started. I'm going to finish this thing and see where I go from here."

Mason was adamant that he didn't return based on any contract overture. He's set to play this season for a $3 million base salary, and he informed Ravens coach John Harbaugh when he returned that he was 100 percent committed to play this season and didn't want to broach the subject of his contract.

Team officials haven't been opposed to at least considering his request for a new deal, though.

"I haven't talked about a contract extension," Mason said. "I told coach Harbaugh, 'If I come back, it's going to be because I want to come back. When I decide, if I decide, it's going to be because my heart is in it.

"I don't want to hear anything about contracts because I don't want that to be a carrot hanging over my head with people saying, 'Well, he just came back for the contract. No. I didn't get an extension. I haven't been talking about an extension. I'm coming back to play football and to try to win a Super Bowl."

With Mason lined up outside to bolster a thin, inexperienced receiving corps, the Ravens' chances of contending certainly have been boosted.

When the Ravens made it to the AFC title game last season, Mason led the team with 80 receptions for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns.

"Derrick's a huge part of our team, a huge part of our offense," tight end Todd Heap said. "I think he just wanted to take some time20and make sure what he was doing was right for him and his family. We were all wondering what he was going to do, but everyone was happy to see him.

"Derrick's been one of the best receivers in the NFL, let alone the Ravens, for many years. So, having him out here brings a huge part to our offense. We can do so many more things with him than we can without him. It's great to have him out here."

Another reason Mason returned was the camaraderie of his teammates. He received numerous phone calls and text messages and was visited at his home by Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and wide receivers coach Jim Hostler.

"It meant a lot," Mason said. "They just wanted to express to me that they respected my decision and they were with me either way. That's all you want."

Although Mason is coming off left shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and a damaged scapula, he appeared to be fine Sunday as he caught several passes from Flacco. Mason had a red jersey tucked into his uniform belt to signify that he wasn't to be hit.

Injecting Mason's toughness into the lineup is a major bonus.

"With his leadership, we were missing that on offense," running back Ray Rice said. "He's an upbeat guy in the huddle. He's not a guy who is just a leader, his athletic ability is off the charts. Last year, he played with one arm. That speaks for itself.

"I just love to play with a guy like that because you know here he comes from. You see him coming out here, full of excitement, and it's great to have a guy like that, just with his presence alone."

Mason could have obviously delayed his return to miss out on the dog days of camp in Westminster, but he didn't think that would be fair.

"Why wait?" he said. "Of course, I could have waited, but who would that have helped? Nobody. I promised coach Harbaugh when he sat down in my living room that I would make a decision in due time and I would tell him at the right time and I wouldn't linger this thing on."

With Mason back, the Ravens' prospects for toppling the defending AFC North and Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers certainly seem stronger.

"The best part is having Derrick Mason back on our football team," Ha rbaugh said. "I've said it from the beginning and I've told Derrick this: 'We're a better football team with Derrick Mason.' We thought we'd be a good team no matter what, but we're better with Derrick. ..

"The thing that Derrick and I talked about was, ‘Come back when and if you're 100-percent ready to play football and be a part of what this team needs.' That's what he wanted to do." And Mason insists that he won't change his mind about his return a la indecisive Brett Favre, but he won't make a commitment to the team beyond this season.

For now, he's only thinking about this season.

"I'm just concentrating on this year, to be honest with you," Mason said. "This season is very important to me and this team. I'm not going to look past this season. I'm going to enjoy every day I'm out here.

"I'm going to enjoy each game that we have, preseason and regular season. I'm going to worry about next year when next year comes. I've got too many problems today to worry about tomorrow."

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

Notebook: Flacco working out the kinks

By Aaron Wilson

WESTMINSTER -- Baltim ore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is typically the consummate stone-faced gunslinger, rarely revealing any emotions or uncorking many interceptions.

Over the past few days of practice, though, Flacco has gotten visibly angry at himself with a few choice curse words. He has tossed five to six interceptions with strong safety Dawan Landry swooping in on a regular basis to pick off the football.

Flacco has thrown off his back foot and off-balance at times, a departure from his usually sound fundamentals and mechanics.

The Ravens aren't worried, though, about Flacco following a strong rookie season where he helped lead the team to the AFC championship game.

"Well, it's training camp," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think the point is that we're throwing a lot of stuff at him. We don't build our installs around building a guy's confidence. We just try to throw everything at guys from Day One, and we don't care how good a side looks or how bad a side looks or if a guy has a good day or a bad day.

"We think it all makes him better because we're going to try to improve from one day to the next. So, we want to put as much pressure on Joe as we can just like all the guys. If he throws picks, he's going to learn from them. If he makes good throws, the defense is going to learn from that. So, we just challenge him every day."

Meanwhile, Landry, who has recovered from offseason neck surgery, has been extremely impressive with his range and i nstincts.

Down to 208 pounds, Landry's increased quickness and speed has been on full display.

"I can't believe how fast he's playing," Harbaugh said. "Dawan is playing incredibly quick. He's covering a lot of ground out there. It's a credit to how hard he works, and I'm excited to see what kind of season he has."

INJURY UPDATES: Wide receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams both suffered hamstring injuries.

Clayton tweaked his left hamstring. And Williams tweaked his right hamstring.

Neither injury appears to be especially serious.

"[Clayton] tweaked his hamstring a little bit, so we're going to be very careful with that and give him time to come back and be 100 percent in the next couple of days," Harbaugh said. "He hasn't missed a rep from the beginning, so he's got a lot of good work under his belt."

Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes was decked by tight end Todd Heap and an offensive lineman on a double-team block in the red zone, suffering a minor concussion.

Barnes was down on the ground for a few minutes while trainers attended to him.

"He got dinged a little bit, probably a minor concussion of some kind, Harbaugh said. "So, he should be OK."

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs hurt his left foot.

Rookie tight end Davon Drew injured his right foot.

Wide receiver Kelley Washington had a strong practice as he was activated from the non-football injury list after dealing with flu symptoms for the past few days.

Fullback Le'Ron McClain appeared to injure his right foot or ankle, but eventually jogged it off and resumed practicing.

Defensive tackle Lamar Divens wasn't at practice. Divens began camp on the physically unable to perform list with hip flexor issues.

Wide receiver Marcus Smith, who has been dealing with cramping, didn't practice along with wide receivers Biren Ealy and Thomas White for undisclosed reasons.

Also not practicing: tight end L.J. Smith (hamstring), wide receiver Yamon Figurs (foot surgery), offensive tackle Adam Terry (arthroscopic knee surgery) and cornerback Samari Rolle (groin and neck),

DEFINING SAUNDERS' ROLE: Former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders has been attending practices and meetings, and an offensive consultant role has been discussed.

Nothing has been finalized as far as a formal arrangement, accordi ng to Harbaugh.

"Al, right now, is a visiting coach and that's where it stands right now," Harbaugh said. "We're thinking about him being involved in some sort of consultant-type basis, but he's in a state of his career where he needs to decide how he wants to fit that in."

QUICK HITS: Linebacker Prescott Burgess flattened tight end Edgar Jones during the morning practice. … Harbaugh gave several veterans the day off as part of the 30-and-over club, including middle linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Ed Reed, defensive end Trevor Pryce, nose guard Kelly Gregg and center Matt Birk. … Chris Chester and David Hale took Birk's snaps. Haruki Nakamura took Reed's place Jameel McClain ran with the first-team defense at middle linebacker. Justin Bannan as well as 360-pound Brandon McKinney filled in for Gregg with Dwan Edwards playing for Pryce. Williams said he isn't bothered that Derrick Mason's return will affect his playing time. "No, not at all," he said. "It's something for me to keep working hard on. Derrick's going to help us all elevate our play, and we're excited by it." … Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb intercepted a deflected Troy Smith pass. … Offensive tackle Joe Reitz (shoulder) has been activated from the physically unable to perform list as well as linebacker Jason Phillips (latera l meniscus).

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

Mason changes mind, ends retirement

Wide receiver announced retirement 20 days ago

By Aaron Wilson

WESTMINSTER -- Veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason executed the first reverse play of the Baltimore Ravens' season, halting his retirement just less than three weeks after his abrupt announcement.

Mason, 35, reported to training camp around lunchtime Saturday, pulling into the team hotel in his Maserati sports car. He was greeted with boisterous hugs, including one from Jack Harbaugh, Ravens coach John Harbaugh's father.

Mason, who had quietly filed his retirement papers in a procedural move to avoid facing fines after initially being placed on the reserve/did not report list, has written a letter to the league office to be formally reinstated. The two-time Pro Bowl selection took a physical and is scheduled to practice this morning at McDaniel College after immediately bolstering the Ravens' thin wide receiver situation.

Mason, who was all smiles during a brief, coy interview with the Carroll County Times and the Baltimore Sun after meeting with general manager Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh and calling team owner Steve Bisciotti around 11 a.m. during the team's morning practice, had been soul-searching as he contemplated whether he would continue to play football.

Mason was affected by several issues, including a private family situation, the murder of his close friend, Steve McNair, and an unresolved contract demand as he enters the final year of a five-year, $20 million contract. Ultimately, the two-time Pro Bowl selection decided that he had unfinished business in Baltimore.

"It was a tough decision, but I think it was a good decision for me to come back," Mason said in a statement released by the team. "I needed to evaluate my life, football and my career. The last several weeks thinking about it and talking with my family was an important time for me and them.

"I still have an intense fire inside me, and I want to play. My family and I wanted to finish it out the right way. I felt like I had left something undone, and I wanted to finish it. I believe this is a good example for my son and my daughter on how to be thoughtful and also follow through."

Mason initially announced his retirement July 13, days after attending a funeral for McNair.

Newsome, commenting through a team spokesman, said that Mason was "very enthused and excited about rejoining his teammates. He told us even at the time he said he was going to retire that he has been working out. It was good to see."

Mason had publicly and privately lobbied for a contract extension. However, at least for now, Mason is slated to play under the same $3 million salary. In the past, team officials have indicated that they're amenable to considering extending Mason's tenure for another year or two. Mason declined to expand on his statement after returning from his physical, but is going to talk with the media after this morning's practice along with Harbaugh.

Mason led the Ravens with 80 receptions for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns last season, dwarfing the combined production of the other returning receivers.

"I definitely feel that now it's our time to be there for him," wide receiver Marcus Smith said. "He took time away to be with his family and get his stuff together, and now it's our time to rally up, be behind him and help him get back in the groove of playing the game.

"I definitely know he was with his family and wasn't even thinking about football. Now, he's back with us. We're going to take a little bit of time to get him back with the mojo going and go from t here."

Mason definitely has had a lot to deal with. Although his retirement announcement, which came through his agents and seemed very orchestrated, was initially interpreted as a ploy for a new contract, it was actually more complicated than that because of personal issues.

When Mason made his announcement, he seemed serious about his intention to walk away.

"After 12 years, I have seen it all and done it all," Mason said on July 13. "Right now, I am content with the decision I am making. All good things come to an end, and I am ready to see what else life has to offer."

And now he's back in the fold after thinking things over.

Despite a torn labrum and damaged scapula, Mason toughed it out last season. And he caught a dozen passes for 190 yards with one touchdown in three playoff games.

Last year, Mason eclipsed the 10,000 career receiving yards milestone.

He has generated more than 1,000 receiving yards in seven of the past eight years and set a franchise record with 103 receptions two years ago.

How much better are the Ravens offensively with Mason?

"A thousand times better," Smith said. "It's definitely a good thing for the team overall because he's got good leadership and years of experience.

"A lot of guys in the room may or may not have wanted him back, but I definitely think it's a good thing for us as a receiving corps. It gives us a little bit more depth and we've got that veteran leadership back."

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

Domonique Foxworth Q&A

By Aaron Wilson

WESTMINSTER -- Baltimore Ravens starting cornerback Domonique Foxworth is one of the youngest NFL players to ever be voted onto the NFL Players Association executive committee and was instrumental in the election of new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.

The former University of Maryland standout also serves on the NFL's player conduct advisory committee.

Signed to a four-year, $27.2 million contract that included $16.5 million in guaranteed money this offseason, Foxworth is a Randallstown native.

With NFL owners opting out of the collective bargaining agreement and a potential uncapped year in 2010 looming as well as a possible lockout in 2011, Foxworth discussed several league issues and his involvement in pending labor talks between the NFL management council and the players' union in an interview with the Carroll County Times.

Times: What was the initial meeting like that you attended in New York between DeMaurice Smith and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Foxworth: "I think it was productive. It's very early. Obviously, no one knows what's going to happen, but it's clear that it's to everybody's benefit to have an open dialogue and talk about the issues."

Times: In your opinion, what are some of the top issues?

Foxworth: "I think getting a deal is obviously our top goal and we're exploring as many avenues as possible to make it easier to come to an agreement. Having the finances of the teams out in the open would be a much more fair way to negotiate. There aren't many negotiations where some people have more information than others, so it's rather unfair in that way."

Times: How did you get involved in NFLPA business?

Foxworth: My first year in the league I hung around Rod Smith, who was the longtime players rep with the Denver Broncos. The next year, he made sure that I was the alternate rep and I got to go to all the meetings my second year and I got really involved and it progressed from that point to being on the executive committee."

Times: What was your motivation in joining the committee?

Foxworth: "Obviously, I'm involved in this league and it's important to me and my fellow players that I know what's going on and I'm involved in the decisions that are in the best interests of the players and the league. There's no other way to do that than to get involved rather than to be on the sideline and complain or be on the sidelines and try to take credit. This is the only way I know how to do something."

Times: How much did the Harvard educational program for NFL players enrich you?

Foxworth: "It always helps when you get around smart people. In that type of environment and experience ,there wasn't one golden nugget that I took away to my life. But being a part of that helped me tremendously." Times: Did you meet your girlfriend, a Harvard Law School student, at that time?

Foxworth: "I knew her from my rookie year when she was a senior at Maryland. She is a super nerd. I am just a regular nerd. I try to be a closet nerd. I don't want people to know that I know anything. The vast majority of the guys are pretty intelligent.

"People underestimate football players. Everybody on this team has other interests and other dimensions. It's a detriment to kids to think that we're only associated with and interested in football. That's one of the drawbacks of being an athlete, but I can try to dispel that stereotype by being involved in education."

Times: Are you optimistic that there will be football in 2011 or do you expect a lockout?

Foxworth: "That's a tough question. I think it's dangerous to be too optimistic. I think it's important that we all prepare for the worst. We want football. I'm going to do everything in my power, and I know everyone in the union will do everything they can to have football for us and for the fans. The biggest thing I can say is I'm hopeful."

Times: What's your level of concern about the prospect of no salary cap next year since it's not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for players with no salary cap basement or ceiling as well as several players not being eligible for free agency that were scheduled to be unrestricted free agents under the old CBA?

Foxworth: "It's definitely not. It would be devastating to retired players. The benefits they get now would be cut by more than 50 p ercent. Obviously, guys who have been playing for four or five years now that are expecting to get to free agency all of a sudden the big payday they've been working for all these years, they may never get to. With one snap, your career can be over.

"It's upsetting to them. It's devastating to the retired players. You lose the benefits and the salary20floor. While the big-name guys may break the bank, everybody else is going to be working for much less than what their value is."

Times: Why was DeMaurice Smith the choice to succeed the late Gene Upshaw?

Foxworth: "I think what sold me and the rest of the guys is he had a different perspective. I think the other candidates wanted it to be busin ess as usual, which had been good for us. We had a new deal. They weren't bad candidates, but DeMaurice represented an opportunity for us to take it to the next level."

Times: What was the trip to Congress like? Foxworth: "It was more of a get-to-know-you thing. The NFL is playing the game in that arena, they do lobby. We had never thought of this before. We can't have them lobbying and we have no weight in that arena.

"It was a chance to get acquainted with those people. The antitrust exemption never came up. For the most part, that's good for everybody. I thought it was a cool experience. I sat in on the hearings and I learned a lot."

Times: Have you taken over as the players' rep on the Ravens with kicker Matt Stover not currently on the roster?

Foxworth: "Matt was a great rep and I think Derrick Mason is the alternate. So, it's pretty much up for grabs. Honestly, because I'm on the executive committee, I would like to find other guys to be the reps to get more people involved. "For now, I'm acting rep. Matt was an amazing rep for so many years. I'm still in contact with Matt and the union in general is in contact with him. His experience is invaluable."

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

Ravens notebook: McClain working his way into regular-season shape

Ayanbadejo sprains toe

By Aaron Wilson

WESTMINSTER -- For Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain, visions of grinding out pivotal fourth-quarter drives and touchdowns are a primary motivating factor as he tries to exercise and diet his way down to his ideal playing weight.

McClain said that he reported at 270 pounds with a target goal of getting down to 260 or 255 pounds.

"I'm in pretty good shape right now," McClain said. "I've got about 10 more pounds to lose. I want to be in that 12-play drive kind of shape. "I can move at any weight, but 260 or 255 is the weight I feel best at. I'm just working hard to get to that point."

For McClain, it's a case of pus hing himself to be more heavily involved in the offense as he returns to a more traditional fullback role one year removed from rushing for a career-high 902 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead the team.

If McClain is in optimum shape, then he's hoping that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is more likely to reciprocate with additional carries. "Coach Cameron wants me at 260, and I'm working hard to get there," McClain said. "I'm trying to do more in the offense and I'll let Cam see that. He's the mastermind of the offense."

McClain feels like he has something left to prove even though he established himself as an All-Pro last season. He also busted off a career-l ong 82-yard touchdown run against the Dallas Cowboys.

You've got to do it all over again," McClain said. "I've got to prove myself and show that last year wasn't a fluke. I take a lot of pride in my blocking. It's back to basics. I tell Willis McGahee every day, 'Let's get both of us back to the Pro Bowl.'"

INJURY UPDATE: Special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo sprained his toe on his right foot and is wearing a boot on his right foot. Magnetic resonance imaging exams revealed no broken bones or ligament damage.

It's not considered to be a serious injury for the Pro Bowl selection.

Tight end L.J. Smith remains sidelined with a hamstring strain. He has20been working out in the pool at the team hotel after practice.

"We'r e just being careful with it to make sure that I can play in the preseason game," Smith said. "The best-case scenario is next week, middle to late portion of the week. You don't want it to feel good and then go out there and push it and pull and it go back to ground zero. I'll gradually build up.

"I'm not having any problems with the hernia or groin. That's fine. The way I hurt it, it was just hot out there and I was running a lot and it just caught up with me. Luckily, it's not a bad hamstring pull. It's just a tweak."

Wide receiver Yamon Figurs isn't practicing as he recovers from a broken toe that required surgery.

"I'm doing conditioning now to get back out there, but the toe is all healed," Figurs said. "I'm just trying to get in shape. We'll see what the doctors think, but I'd like to get out there next week.

Also not practicing: wide receiver Kelley Washington (flu), cornerback Samari Rolle (groin and neck), linebacker Jason Phillips (lateral meniscus), offensive tackles Adam Terry (arthroscopic knee surgery) and Joe Reitz (knee) and defensive end Will Johnson (right leg). Terry is awaiting the results of more tests on his knee. His leg remains heavily wrapped up and he's limping pretty badly.

ON THE MOVE: Strong safety Dawan Landry intercepted a pair of Joe Flacco passes, breaking cleanly on the football.

"Everything's going fine," said Landry, who underwent offseason neck surgery. "I made a couple breaks and was able to get my hands on the ball. I'm just flying around."

GETTING THERE: Defensive tackle Brandon McKinney, who impressed the team enough last season as an interior run-stopperthat he was signed to a three-year contract this offseason, is one of the biggest players on the team at 6-foot-2, 360 pounds.

"They want me to drop a few pounds, I'm a bit over my target weight," McKinney said. "I'm in pretty good shape, but losing a few pounds wouldn't hurt. I didn't have to take the conditioning test, but when I did take it, I passed."

QUICK HITS: Running back Ray Rice continues to shine as the first-string back, breaking off a long run. … Wide receiver Marcus Smith caught a long pass behind cornerback Fra nk Walker, but was flagged for offensive pass interference. … Justin Harper and Demetrius Williams dropped some passes during the morning workout. … Troy Smith was intercepted by former high school teammate Haruki Nakamura. Smith was angered by the mistake and knocked the safety out of bounds with Nakamura throwing the football at Smith. … Undrafted rookie linebacker Dannell Ellerbe repeatedly got the best of fullback Jason Cook in one-on-one confrontations, and knocked off his own helmet with one big hit.

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

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