WESTMINSTER — The football soared toward Mark Clayton’s outstretched hands, landing in his fingertips as he accelerated toward the end zone.
Touchdown, and he made it look routine.
It was an uncommon experience for the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver last season as he slumped to a career-low 34 receptions and two scores.
The low point was a key fourth-down pass from Joe Flacco, albeit a hard spiral from short range that bounced off his shoulder pads during the fourth quarter of a regular-season loss to the New England Patriots.
In the wake of the Ravens acquiring Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth this offseason and retained veteran Derrick Mason, Clayton was essentially written off.
Contrary to that projection, though, he remains relevant in the Ravens’ wide receiver conversation.
When Mason sprained his right ankle this week, it was Clayton who was tabbed to join the first-team offense, not Stallworth.
Clayton has never accepted the notion that his status or standards need to change.
“Every time I step on this field, I don’t do anything different than I’ve always done,” Clayton said. “I don’t work any less hard than I’ve always worked. Nothing is changed. I’m just consistent in what I do. That’s what I said my rookie year.
“I said, ‘My job is to be consistent, period.’ Work hard, do what you’re supposed to do, take care of your business, be a constant pro and everything else will take care of itself.”
So far at training camp, that has been the case.
Clayton has displayed consistent hands and run crisp pass patterns.
Unlike last August when he was sidelined for the majority of the preseason with a hamstring pull, the former first-round draft pick is complexly healthy.
“Mark’s had a really good camp,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Mark’s caught the ball really well. Mark’s a polished receiver. Last year, he had the hamstring in training camp. He missed most of training camp, so this year he’s getting a lot of good work.”
Ever since his career-best season four years ago, Clayton’s production has decreased every year.
Since catching 67 passes for 939 yards and seven touchdowns in 2006, Clayton caught 48 passes for 531 yards and no touchdowns in 2007.
In 2008, he dropped to 41 receptions for 695 yards and three touchdowns.
Last season was even tougher despite starting a dozen games.
Clayton spent this offseason completing his undergraduate degree requirements at the University of Oklahoma.
He also underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
Clayton also made a trip to Africa.
He didn’t dwell on his statistics and playing time outlook as he heads into a contract year.
“No, I’m always thinking about life and purpose,” Clayton said. “Why are we here? Why am I on this football field? What’s the purpose of me being here? At the end of the day, it comes with having an eternal mindset and just the value of what football has on eternity.
“It’s not nothing, to be honest. So, I know I can enjoy this and just leave it at that. It’s just playing, having fun, enjoying myself. No worries.”
Deeply religious, Clayton has spent a considerable amount of time focusing on his Christian faith.
He is planning to be an ordained minister one day.
When asked what kind of goals he has set for this season, Clayton issued a quick reply.
“Glorify the Lord,” he said. “It’s just that easy. Football, I love it. I play it. I enjoy it, but glorifying the Lord that’s all I do, man. Leave it at that.”