`Excited' McAlister warms up as Raven

Top pick covers field in get-acquainted session at Owings Mills complex

Nfl Draft

April 19, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

It was nearly two months ago when Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, was in a booth with coaches Pete Carroll of New England and Ray Rhodes of Green Bay. The three were scouting defensive backs at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where Arizona cornerback Chris McAlister was a no-show.

That's when Newsome disclosed that the cornerback he wanted was McAlister. The comment drew laughter from Rhodes and Carroll because the Ravens had the No. 10 overall pick in the NFL draft. But it was the Ravens and McAlister who were all smiles yesterday.

McAlister, the Ravens' No. 1 draft pick, showed up at the team's training complex in Owings Mills yesterday. He talked about his future with the NFL team, his desire to report to training camp on time, the petty theft he committed three years ago and the relationship with his father, James, an All-America running back at UCLA and former player with Philadelphia and New England.

"I'd just like to say I'm very excited to be in Baltimore and to play for this organization," McAlister said. "Negotiations on the contract are going to go quick and I want to be in training camp on time. I'm not one to hold out. I want to get to training camp, learn what I need to learn and enjoy myself."

No player enjoys training camp, but McAlister has, indeed, a lot to learn. The NFL isn't the Pac-10, and the AFC Central has some of the league's best receivers. Cincinnati has Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott, Tennessee Yancey Thigpen. And then there is Jacksonville, which has Ravens killers Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith.

But now the Ravens have McAlister and cornerback Duane Starks, who may be years away from being a great duo, but at least bring the team closer to Jacksonville, which is favored to repeat as division champion.

Veteran Rod Woodson was the Ravens' physical cornerback last year, but the acquisition of McAlister will push Woodson inside to safety.

Said coach Brian Billick: "With the size of receivers in the league now, Chris has the talent where we don't have to worry from week to week on whether we have to put a big corner on this side or that side. He gives Marvin [Lewis, defensive coordinator] a lot of latitude."

McAlister said, "The competition level from college to the NFL is going to be much different. I don't think every week you go out in college knowing this is going to be your toughest matchup. In the NFL, this is what you have to look for every week.

"Week in, week out, you're going against the best. Basically, that's what I have to prepare myself for to be successful at the next level.

"I think I can become more than what I put on film last year," he added. "Last year was my third on the corner and I've continued to get better every year. I can play both sides equally."

First of all, though, the Ravens have to get McAlister signed. His agent, Eugene Parker, is known throughout the league for holding out players in contract disputes. Ravens owner Art Modell, who has been known to chide Parker publicly, once branded Parker "The King of the Holdouts."

Parker held out Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware for six weeks of training camp in 1997 and held out cornerback DeRon Jenkins for nearly a week of training camp in 1996.

Last summer, Florida State defensive end Andre Wadsworth, another Parker client, was the last first-round draft choice to sign after missing most of the Arizona Cardinals' preseason.

"He'll be pleased if he comes early and he'll be a wealthy man," said Ravens owner Art Modell.

"Most definitely," McAlister replied with a smile.

McAlister has few hobbies with the exception of video games. He said he admires Michael Jordan, and, of course, his father.

"He basically gave me an insight on what would happen during the draft and the events leading up to it," McAlister said.

"I would say he's been an 85 percent influence on me as far as football, especially on the offensive side where he played. But he also was the one who guided me to the defensive side."

McAlister downplayed the recent report that he would be required to serve 10 days in jail on a petty-theft charge three years ago.

"It happened back in 1996," he said. "I was hanging out with some guys and did something I shouldn't have done. I took a T-shirt.

"Actually, I thought our lawyer resolved it back then, but they just recently told me I had to serve the 10 days. I was shocked, but it's the consequences of my action. The incident has made me a better person and helped inspire me."

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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