Ravens' new blood pumped for opener


ATLANTA - Derrick Mason wants to establish a rhythm in his debut.

Samari Rolle doesn't want to upset anyone's rhythm in his.

New aspirations and new allegiances mark the opening of the Ravens' preseason tonight inside the Georgia Dome, where their two prominent free-agent additions will do what was once unthinkable.

Formerly the Ravens' bitter rivals as members of the Tennessee Titans, Mason and Rolle officially come into the fold.

"I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that I would end up here," Rolle said. "But I know now this is where I belong."

First impressions will have to be made swiftly and succinctly because starters aren't expected to play beyond the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons.

For his cameo, Rolle is looking to blend into one of the NFL's most aggressive and talented secondaries. The longtime sergeant of the Titans' pass defense, the cornerback now finds himself as the only newcomer in the Ravens' starting defensive backfield.

"They were already a good defense before I got here," Rolle said. "So, I'm not trying to mess that up."

Whereas Rolle is trying to uphold the Ravens' tradition of the defense, Mason is trying to change it on offense.

The Ravens finished last in passing in 2003 and second-to-last in 2004, a reflection of the team's lack of a No. 1 receiver as well as their yearly struggles to add one. That's why the signing of Mason five months ago was so celebrated.

Considered the first legitimate go-to wide receiver in coach Brian Billick's seven-year run, Mason is ready to prove he's worthy of that billing.

"I feel like I'm rejuvenated now," Mason said. "I get another opportunity to show that I'm a damn good receiver in this league."

Mason and Rolle aren't the only newcomers of note.

Right guard Keydrick Vincent and weak-side linebacker Tommy Polley (Dunbar) were two free-agent acquisitions who bring more athleticism to the starting lineup.

Then there's receiver Mark Clayton, the rookie who has the best chance of making an impact this season. Berated by Billick before and after his five-day holdout, the first-round pick has heard less harsh words after delivering some spectacular catches in his first week of training camp.

"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, a different level for him. It'll be a good start for him."

Clayton is expected to play about 10 to 12 snaps and possibly return some punts.

As for Clayton escaping his doghouse, Billick said, "With every catch, he gets a little more and more out."

Another new look for the Ravens is at the coordinator positions, with Jim Fassel being hired to take over the offense and Rex Ryan being promoted to oversee the defense.

So not to reveal everything before the regular season, Fassel said he would cut back 20 percent of the playbook this preseason. Ryan, on the other hand, has decided to cut his players loose.

"We're not going to be basic," Ryan said. "We're going to have multiple fronts, multiple pressure packages and multiple coverages. Yeah, it's not fine-tuned by any stretch. But we're putting the gas in it and let's see what happens."

Whether it's playing the 4-3 defense or dropping safety Will Demps down for the 46 scheme, the key will be tracking down Michael Vick, the fleet-footed quarterback of the Falcons.

"We're going to have to earn it," Ryan said. "It's going to be a big test for our guys to try to keep that guy in the pocket."

The focal point on the Ravens' offense will be at quarterback as well.

Even without running back Jamal Lewis (ankle) and tight end Todd Heap (shoulder and ankle) not in the lineup, the Ravens are eager to see how much Kyle Boller has grown as he enters his third season as the starter.

"I want to see him play within himself," Fassel said. "I'm anxious to see him play. He's really doing well."

Mason backed those sentiments, saying he has built a mutual confidence with Boller after four offseason camps and two weeks of training camp.

"Kyle, more than anybody, is ready to go out and prove to people that he's a top-notch quarterback in this league," Mason said." I think we're going to come out and establish a rhythm quickly. Hopefully, we'll score on our first drive and get out of there."

Ravens tonight

Matchup: Ravens vs. Atlanta Falcons in preseason opener

Site, time: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Falcons by 3

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