Draft picks impress Ravens

McAlister, Mulitalo and Stokley praised as rookies leave camp

April 26, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The Ravens concluded their third day of minicamp yesterday, and, as the rookies packed bags and flew either home or back to their college campuses, three of the team's four draft selections left favorable impressions, especially Arizona cornerback Chris McAlister, the team's No. 1 pick.

NFL teams can work out their rookies for only three days during the school year after the draft, but McAlister lived up to his advance billing as one of the best cornerbacks in college football last season. Arizona offensive lineman Edwin Mulitalo and Southwest Louisiana receiver Brandon Stokley, both fourth-round picks, also turned a few heads. The only drafted rookie not to practice was Virginia safety Anthony Poindexter, a seventh-round selection, who is rehabilitating from a knee injury suffered last season.

Compared with starting cornerback Duane Starks' rookie minicamp a year ago, McAlister showed more raw ability. Both were the Ravens' No. 1 draft picks at No. 10 overall.

McAlister, 6 feet 1 and 206 pounds, showed good reflex time and moved well to the ball. He closed extremely fast on receivers when they came out of their breaks on pass patterns, and was physical at the line of scrimmage when the Ravens were in man coverage.

Sometimes, though, McAlister was a little too physical.

"I've got to learn to keep my hands off receivers," he said. "In college, you could have your hands on them until the ball left the quarterback's hands. In the NFL, you can't touch them after 5 yards. That's going to be an adjustment for me. In a few days, I've already realized the difference in talent level. This game has more speed; the receivers are quicker. They set you up in so many ways."

McAlister received help from veteran cornerbacks Rod Woodson, DeRon Jenkins and even Starks. McAlister said he followed Woodson "foot to foot" and spent a lot of free time with Starks.

"I think I got a feel for the defense, but I wanted to grasp hold of every concept," McAlister said. "Rod was always talking to me, pointing out things. Even when I wasn't asking questions, he was still telling me stuff. He was very helpful.

"Duane kept telling me to relax, not to put pressure on myself. He would give me advice about things like staying in my backpedal for 20 yards instead of turning and running at 12 to 15. I look forward to coming back and getting into the next minicamp."

McAlister worked exclusively with the second team behind Jenkins during the weekend, but the move to the first team is inevitable. Ravens coach Brian Billick gave no indication of a time frame.

"His ability just leaps out at you," Billick said. "But we're not in the evaluation stage yet. Clearly, though, we took him at a position where we anticipate a certain level of productivity. From the last three days, one can understand why he was rated as high as he was in the draft."

Billick didn't get much of a look at Mulitalo, 6-3, 328 pounds. But from glimpses, he saw a lot of potential from a player who could work his way into becoming the Ravens' fifth or sixth lineman.

"I tried to get a peek at him every now and then," Billick said. "He certainly likes to compete, and he picked things up pretty well."

Mulitalo said: "Next time I come here, I won't be taking vacation. From this time onward, I'll be lifting more, running more, staying in shape. The less the coach sees you sucking air in practice, the better you will be. It was a learning experience, and I picked up some of the offense. The biggest adjustment for me is that I had to realize I'm just a rookie and no longer the big man on campus."

Billick said that's a common problem.

"It's like being a freshman player in college. Nobody wants to admit they're homesick," Billick said. "It's the same here. All of them [rookies] are lost. But they are too macho. They've got to put up that bravado. I tell them to grab their butts, know you're lost, but be aggressive and we'll get you where you want to go."

Stokley looked relatively at ease. His father was his head coach in college, and it showed during minicamp with precise routes and good hands. But the team's apparent need for a dependable receiver other than Jermaine Lewis has been glaring thus far in minicamp, with a lot of dropped balls. The most notable has been receiver Patrick Johnson, who has hardly been the player Ravens vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome envisioned when he made Johnson the team's second-round draft pick a year ago.

The Ravens want Johnson to challenge for a starting position.

"I'll attribute only a part of it to them thinking about where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing," Billick said about his receivers. "I'm encouraged by the way they have picked things up. I'm frustrated because of the inconsistency physically, but that's something we'll work on."

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