-- Wide receiver Mark Clayton, the Baltimore Ravens' first-round draft pick, did not get off to the best start with his new employer. The 22nd overall selection did not report at the start of training camp because he had not agreed to a contract. He did not show up the second day, or the third day.
By the time Clayton signed with the Ravens on the morning of Aug. 6, he had missed five days of camp, 10 practices and one scrimmage. Since then, he has wasted little time catching up.
"He's a very smart football player. He knows this offense," wide receivers coach David Shaw said. "The big thing he had to do was get on the field, in pads, against this top-flight group of defensive backs and get used to the high level of competition."
Clayton will take his next step Saturday night, when the Ravens travel to Atlanta for their preseason opener. Coach Brian Billick said Clayton will get around 10 to 12 snaps on offense against the Falcons and also will return punts.
"He's impressive," Billick said. "He's picked up the offense very well in a short period of time. He'll be tested on Saturday; it's a different level for him."
It will be a chance to see if Clayton is as good as he has looked in practice. On Wednesday, he provided one of the highlights of training camp, leaping over Deion Sanders to grab a long touchdown pass from quarterback Kyle Boller. That same day, he blew by safety Will Demps to catch another touchdown pass. On a short pass play, he grabbed the ball away from cornerback Jamaine Winborne.
There was more of the same on Thursday. But after practice, Clayton shrugged off the play he made against Sanders -- "I was just doing my job, man. Just catch the ball, however you do it," he said -- and focused instead on the one play where he jumped offside.
"I'm making strides, but I still have a lot of mistakes," said Clayton, who immediately did 10 push-ups after his transgression. "I don't look at myself as a mistake guy, and that's not going to be me. I'm just taking my time. I know that [the other wide receivers] have a week on me, but I have to be on the same level they are. So far, I'm pretty good."
Clayton signed a five-year, $8.2 million contract. The holdup was related to how the deal was structured; Clayton emphasized it was not because he was trying to get more money (the total worth of the contract was agreed upon early in the week). As he waited for the deal to be hammered out, he stayed at Boller's house in Owings Mills, Md., and did everything he could to be ready when he stepped onto the practice field.
He prepared himself physically by working out a local gym and by running routes as Boller's roommate threw him passes. He also prepared himself mentally. Clayton talked to Shaw every day, and the coach filled him in on what the offense worked on that particular day: two-minute drill, red zone, third downs and so on.
"I wasn't able to practice with the guys, so I had to progress myself mentally. Get into my playbook," Clayton said. "When I finally got out here to work, it was just applying it."
Veteran Derrick Mason and 2004 sixth-round draft pick Clarence Moore are listed as the Ravens' starters, and Clayton doesn't mind having to work to earn his spot with the first string.
"He takes nothing for granted," Shaw said. "There are other players that have gotten a lot of accolades their entire lives, and there's always a point they can get to where they think they can coast. Mark doesn't coast. Mark comes to work, he does well, he makes plays, and he comes out the next day and does it again."
Ravens Notes: Safety Ed Reed was held out of practice on Friday as a precaution; the NFL's defensive player of the year tweaked his knee on Thursday. If he can't play on Saturday, Chad Williams likely will fill his role. Fullback Alan Ricard left Friday's practice early with a calf injury and also will be a game time decision. Running back Jamal Lewis, who began practicing on Wednesday, will not play. Linebacker Adalius Thomas (knee), linebacker Dan Cody (knee), tight end Todd Heap (ankle and shoulder) and running back Musa Smith (leg) also will not play.
Special teams coach Gary Zauner will not make the trip to Atlanta; his assistant, Bennie Thompson, will be in charge of the unit. Zauner spent two days in the hospital earlier this week with a staph infection in the same leg in which he recently had knee replacement surgery.