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OWINGS MILLS — It was already too late of a reaction, even if Evan Oglesby didnâ€™t immediately realize that Mark Clayton was setting him up for a fall.
First, Clayton sold an intermediate out pattern and froze Oglesby with a jab step. Then, the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ starting wide receiver finished off the reserve cornerback by adeptly changing directions and accelerating into a crisp fly pattern.
During this familiar minicamp sequence that unfolded last week at the Ravens’ training complex, Clayton left Oglesby several yards behind by sprinting into the open field to settle under a Steve McNair spiral for yet another touchdown catch.
As the Ravens conclude their spring workouts with a voluntary minicamp that ends Thursday, Clayton is looking to build upon last yearâ€™s breakthrough season. The reigning AFC North champions are counting on even more production from Clayton as a featured performer in its West Coast offense.
â€œItâ€™s a huge difference,â€ Clayton said last week following the Ravensâ€™ mandatory minicamp. â€œIâ€™m just settling down, calming down. Knowing what I did last year, I have a different set of expectations. Not only for me, but for the team as a whole.
â€œEach and every Sunday Iâ€™m in the locker room just waiting for a chance. Last year was fun and exciting. So, Iâ€™m taking it a day at a time and trying to just be better tomorrow than I was yesterday.â€
Itâ€™s that attention to detail and an uninterrupted string of good health that has Clayton, 24, and the Ravens encouraged about his potential entering his third NFL season.
Last season, the 2005 first-round draft pick from Oklahoma registered a career-high 67 receptions and five touchdowns for a team-high 939 receiving yards. He generated 42 first downs, and caught an 87-yard touchdown in the Ravensâ€™ victory over the Kansas City Chiefs that marks the longest play of his career.
Spurring Claytonâ€™s motivation going forward is the disappointing ending to last season’s franchise-record 13-3 finish.
Although Clayton caught six passes for 73 yards in his NFL postseason debut, the Ravensâ€™ offense was extremely ineffective overall as Baltimore took a 15-6 loss against the eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts in an AFC divisional playoff at M&T Bank Stadium.
â€œThis year, our attitude when weâ€™re on the field is weâ€™re attacking,â€ Clayton said. â€œWe want to put points on the board and then let our defense pin their ears back and have at it. Steve has a year under his belt, so, hopefully, this year weâ€™ll be able to step it up to another level.â€
At 5-foot-10 and a compact 195 pounds, Clayton has gained roughly 10 pounds this offseason to boost his endurance and tackle-breaking ability. Last season, he averaged 14 yards per reception as his emergence and rookie Demetrius Williamsâ€™ increased role cut into veteran Derrick Masonâ€™s opportunities during the second half of the schedule.
â€œI just wanted to be more explosive, catch the ball better and break some tackles,â€ Clayton said. â€œWeâ€™ll see how it all works out. First and foremost is mentally to understand the game to a point where I can just go out and play, help this team and get to where we want to be.â€
Clayton, who missed a practice last week to accompany his pregnant wife to a doctor’s appointment, is no longer plagued by the nagging hamstring strain that he dealt with throughout his rookie year and for a brief period during training camp last summer.
Although Clayton didnâ€™t go so far as to knock on his wooden locker stall while proclaiming himself completely injury-free during an interview, he expressed relief to finally have a clean bill of health.
â€œSo far, so good,â€ Clayton said. â€œIâ€™m not complaining. Iâ€™m paying attention to my physical conditioning so we donâ€™t have to worry about that.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital