Rookie tackle Dalton trying to butt in line Ravens: Free agent Lional Dalton has beaten long odds before, surviving Detroit's mean streets, and faces big hurdles in camp, too, competing for a job on a crowded defensive line.

July 23, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Lional Dalton has visions of one day driving the white 1989 Ford Bronco that he calls O. J. back into a Detroit slum and having a huge picnic with Jerome Bettis, Pepper Johnson and Gilbert Brown, other NFL players who have escaped his hometown, a city often ravaged by drugs and violence.

Dalton, a rookie free-agent defensive tackle out of Eastern Michigan, is a long shot to make the Ravens but one of several defensive linemen, including tackles Chartric Darby and Larry Fitzpatrick, who have made a solid impression on the coaching staff after two days of training camp. The veterans will begin reporting late today and all are required to have signed in by 11 a.m. tomorrow.

"This is one of the best groups in the last couple of years," Ravens defensive line coach Jacob Burney said of his rookies and free agents. "They all have the potential to make the club. But Lional is a powerful guy, strong and physical. He needs to get tougher mentally because he has the physical talent. He has a legitimate shot of playing in this league."

Dalton, 6 feet 1 and 299 pounds, knows the odds are against him, but he likes his chances. The odds of making it this far were even greater when he was a youngster in Detroit.

One of his best friends was murdered a year ago, shot in the stomach three times with an AK-47 after an argument over a parking space. When Dalton was younger, his uncle was killed outside a nightclub in a dispute over a gold chain. Drug dealers were on almost every street corner. Dalton said his uncle was one of them.

Dalton said he sold marijuana once himself when he was a senior in high school until a friend told one of his uncles. The rest is history.

"My uncle tore me up," Dalton said. "I mean, he lit me up. That was the end of my drug-dealing days."

Basically, Dalton was a good kid. He was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. His mother kept him in recreation basketball and football leagues.But he took a lot of abuse because his friends wanted Dalton on the street corner or on drugs. The peer pressure was great, but Dalton kept his faith in God.

"When you're living right, trying to do the right things, that's when your friends talk about you," said Dalton, who has a quick wit and was nicknamed "Jelly Roll" in college. "They keep shooting you down, saying you're trying to be something you're not. They come up with excuses for not achieving, but that's not me.

"As far as I'm concerned, I've had an easy life. When people ask me if I come from high class, low class or middle class, I say middle class, ghetto. We didn't miss any meals and we always got something for Christmas. That's a good life, man.

"If I do make it in this league, that's one reason why I don't want to return. People are still going to be talking about me. But each year Bettis, Pepper and Gilbert Brown have a camp in our neighborhood. Down the street from where I live, there is a boarded-up area which I want to turn into a basketball court. That's where I'm going to have my picnic every year with Bettis, Pepper and Gilbert Brown."

Dalton is a player on a mission for numerous reasons. Despite earning first-team All-Mid American Athletic Conference honors twice, playing in the Hula Bowl and recording 46 tackles his senior year, he wasn't drafted. It was just another disappointing moment in his career, similar to when he was one of the top 15 prospects in Michigan but was not recruited by the University of Michigan. Dalton had to settle for Eastern Michigan.

The Ravens have three solid players who platoon at tackle -- James Jones, Tony Siragusa and Larry Webster -- and drafted Martin Chase out of Oklahoma on the fifth round. It's unlikely the club will keep more than four or five players at the position, though vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome has said that a team can never have enough defensive linemen.

Dalton's forte is stopping the run and shooting gaps. He has good explosion and was the MAAC's third-best shot putter with a heave of 56 feet, 8 inches.

"I'm familiar with the scheme, which is why I came here," said Dalton, who also had offers from the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs. "I've also worked with Jacob Burney before [at the Senior Bowl] and he is a godly man, which is important to me. Being a free agent really doesn't bother me because if I perform well I'll get noticed just like a veteran.

"When I didn't get drafted, it was the lowest point in my life," Dalton added. "Now I want to prove to some teams that they should have taken me in the draft. So far, I've been average, but if I play up to my potential, I'll be all right. All my life I wanted to build up that area back home, willing to make a difference. Here's my chance with this team."

Ravens camp

Location: Western Maryland College, Westminster

Dates: Through Aug. 20

Practice session hours: 9 a.m. to 11: 15 a.m. and 2: 40 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Directions from Baltimore: Take I-695 to Exit 19 to I-795 north to its end. Follow signs to Westminster via Route 140 west to Route 31 south. At blinking yellow light, turn left (Route 31); at first traffic light, turn left on Main Street. Proceed up the hill, the entrance to parking is on your left.

For more information: Call 410-261-FANS

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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