Derrick Mason was once a major part of the Ravens as their top receiver, a frequent witness to the interplay between quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on the sidelines and in meeting rooms.
And the retired former Ravens wide receiver was surprised that the oft-criticized Cameron was fired Monday after five years running the Baltimore offense.
Although not shocked by the dismissal and the elevation of Jim Caldwell from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, Mason did emphasize that the timing was unusual considering the Ravens have three games remaining in the regular season and are in first place in the AFC North division.
"That's unfortunate," Mason told The Baltimore Sun in a telephone interview. "I think this has kind of been brewing. It's been no secret that each year there's speculation of Cam being replaced and whispers about him. I'm more surprised that this happened with three games left and your defense isn't what it used to be because of injuries. The only stable thing that you had was your offense healthy and playing together.
"To fire him with three games left, I think that was a surprise. I don't agree or disagree with the hiring of Jim Caldwell or the firing of Cam Cameron. I'm just surprised by them doing it now. I'm surprised by the timing."
Mason said Cameron often found himself in a no-win situation, a target of criticism for not throwing deep enough in some seasons or not giving the football often enough to Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice.
"When you take a job like that, you come under scrutiny, especially if a team goes on a two-game losing streak or people feels like you should have been in the Super Bowl," Mason said. "People got to remember, this offense led this team to an AFC championship game. Was it Cam's fault that a pass was dropped? Was it his fault that we didn't make a crucial catch? That was on the players. It has to go across the board. We don't know every decision made on scheme and personnel or whether it goes deeper than that or what the relationship was like between Cam and Joe Flacco or John Harbaugh. Only those three people involved know that."
Mason expressed support for owner Steve Bisciotti and the leadership of general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"Mr. Bisciotti is a great owner, a smart guy," Mason said. "He understands what he's doing. He has enough leaders on that offensive side of the ball that making this change won't make a huge different. I don't think he thinks they will falter."
In his fifth season as a starter, Flacco has been occasionally erratic and inconsistent.
Flacco has passed for 3,220 yards on 60 percent accuracy, generating 18 touchdown passes and nine interceptions for an 87.1 quarterback rating.
With Cameron gone, obviously the focus will turn toward Flacco and how he fares with a new offensive coordinator in Caldwell.
"What I've been seeing from him is consistently getting better," Mason said of his former quarterback. "At times, he's been missing, which you can't have from your quarterback. I've also seen him play tremendously this year. Especially with them changing offensive coordinators, everybody will say, 'What we thought was the problem is gone, the so-called anchor holding us down.' If we continue to flutter, is it then on Caldwell or on Joe as a quarterback?
"Joe needs to be cognizant that the pressure is on him now. No one else can say on that team or in the media or the fans that it was Cam's fault going forward. If the problems continue, then it's bigger than the offensive coordinator. I think Joe will continue to do a good job. If he doesn't, it will be shocking to me. If he doesn't take the opportunity to take a stranglehold of this team from a leadership standpoint, I'll be very surprised."
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