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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Although he’s winning his personal chess match against NFL defenses, Mark Clayton is far too humble to ever declare a checkmate.
Demetrius Williams, another emerging young wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens, delivers sincere statements about merely being grateful to be on the roster.
The present and future of the Ravens’ receiving corps apparently didn’t get that memo about diva behavior becoming the norm for several pass-catchers throughout the league.
What they lack in bravado and flamboyance, the duo makes up for by providing skill, confidence along with technically sound routes and hands.  The two young receivers put on a major display in a 27-26 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
Clayton caught seven passes for 125 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown. Williams registered career-highs with four receptions for 75 yards in racking up three first downs.
“We’ve got a great group of young receivers, and they’re taking a lot of heat off Derrick Mason and Todd Heap,” quarterback Steve McNair said. “I told those guys that they have to continue to step up their game, and they’ve been productive. That’s what they’re going to have to continue to do for us to get where we want to get.”
Clayton emerging as the team’s leading receiver with 41 receptions for 502 yards and three touchdowns has occurred despite the presence of Heap, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end, and Mason, a two-time Pro Bowl receiver.
One year after being hampered by hamstring and ankle injuries as he broke the team’s rookie records for receptions (41) and yards (477), Clayton is in the midst of a banner season.
“He’s matured more than anything,” Mason said. “There are a lot of quick and fast guys out there, but the guy that survives in this game is the one that’s mature and mentally strong.
“I think Mark has come to realize that. That’s why he’s doing so well. As long as he continues to grow on the field, the sky’s the limit for him.”
It’s the nuances of the position that no longer escape Clayton’s notice one year after being drafted in the first round out of Oklahoma following a consensus All-American career.   He ranks second on the team with 24 first downs, four behind Mason, and has converted 10 third downs.
“He’s doing all the little things right,” McNair said.
Added cornerback Chris McAlister: "From his rookie season, Mark is a different guy. He has a better understanding of the game. Experience does that for you.”
Clayton is putting a new unique imprint on an improving passing game with his ability to change directions and accelerate out of his routes and after the catch.
“This year, I’m a lot more comfortable,” Clayton said. “As a rookie coming in, you’re real confident. Guys tell you it’s still football, so you get in your brain, how much different can it be?
“I picked up what we were trying to do, but defenses are a lot better. Those guys are really smart over there. I’m just getting used to that chess match.”
Meanwhile, Williams, a fourth-round steal out of Oregon who blends size, speed and crisp routes, has made the most out of limited opportunities.  As the third wide receiver behind Mason and Clayton, he has caught 11 passes for 177 yards for a team-high 16.1 average per catch.
“You’ve got to know your role,” Williams said. “Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason are our go-to guys for a reason. I was excited to make the team. Now, I want to stay here.
“I’m excited and just trying to make the best out of my situation. Everybody starts somewhere.”
Williams has also demonstrated a willingness to traverse across dangerous territory over the middle.  “He’s got a toughness to him for a young player in every opportunity that he gets and in key situations,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “We need to get the ball to him more.”
Teammates have noticed a difference in how Clayton approaches the game.
A year ago, he tended to worry about whether he was living up to expectations. Now, he lets the flow of the game come to him in a more natural, low-key approach.
“When you’re comfortable on the field and you understand the offensive scheme, it allows you to just go out and play football,” Clayton said. “You work hard all week, then go out on Sunday and you’re successful.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson


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