Mulitalo steps right in line

Rookie guard excels in starting debut

November 19, 1999|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Having a rookie guard starting his first game next to him last week against Jacksonville, center Jeff Mitchell expected lots of fastballs -- a plea for help from an offensive lineman when he doesn't slow his man down -- coming his way.

Turns out, Mitchell ended up throwing two fastballs at the rookie, Edwin Mulitalo.

"He picked up everything," Mitchell said. "He really did a good job, not just with what he was supposed to do in base blocking. I know it was only his first game but he had good instincts out there. I'll be honest, I didn't think he was going to play that well. But he played well."

So Mitchell found out what the coaches already knew about Mulitalo: He is capable of playing at the NFL level.

His chance came with the season-ending injury to right tackle Harry Swayne. That forced Everett Lindsay into Swayne's position and vaulted Mulitalo, who began the season running with the scout team, into the starting role.

Back in training camp, starting a rookie offensive lineman was not something coach Brian Billick wanted to do. But with the injuries and with his play, Mulitalo has a good shot at starting the rest of the season. He will definitely start Sunday in Cincinnati.

"There are a lot of other positions you can survive with a rookie and try and get by," Billick said. "The offensive line is a tough one because of the subtle communication. It probably takes as much experience to play that position as any one on the field, maybe with the exception of quarterback."

In other words, Mulitalo is wise beyond his years. That is understandable because, at 25, he is older than most rookies. His advanced age is because of a two-year Mormon mission Mulitalo took when he was 19 after playing football one year at Ricks College in Idaho.

Mulitalo was completely without football and much training the next two years while he traveled around Idaho, Oregon and Nevada spreading his faith. In the short run, the layoff hurt his football skills when he came back to Ricks, which kept him on scholarship through the mission. It took him a while to regain the form he had before he left.

But in the long run, Mulitalo said the mission allowed him to grow as a person and be more ready to adapt to big-time college football and playing in the NFL.

Mulitalo finished the last two years of his college career at Arizona, where he started 23 games at left tackle.

The Ravens selected Mulitalo with their second fourth-round pick in the draft.

"I was very mature when I got back [from the mission]," Mulitalo said. "In that aspect, I was ahead of a lot of the younger guys. And I had to work harder to physically get back to where I was at.

"That was probably, besides getting married, one of the most important decisions in my life. And now I've changed. I'm a completely different person."

His maturity and 6-foot-3, 328-pound frame is what attracted the Ravens. Offensive line coach Jim Colletto said he likes Mulitalo's size and mobility, something not all offensive lineman have.

His mobility is what gives him the edge over last year's starter, James Atkins, who was hurt for the first part of the season but is now healthy.

"He can run, and he is a real agile and nifty guy," Colletto said. "You don't find many guys that big who can run around like he can. He is a powerful guy who should be a real good pass-blocker because he is light on his feet. He's a guy who you can pull because he weighs 340 pounds. He gives you a lot of flexibility at guard."

So now Mulitalo makes his second start, against not quite the same level of play as he faced going against the Jaguars' No. 1-ranked defense.

Mulitalo said after facing the Jaguars, he has a measuring stick for all other defenses he will face. The Bengals play a 3-4 defense, which means Mulitalo will probably have more linebacker responsibilities this game.

"He had a very difficult task in Jacksonville, which he answered the bell very well," Billick said. "Now he has to take that same mentality and continue to improve in Cincinnati, then come back and play a tough Jacksonville team.

"He's like every rookie. Every snap he takes he becomes more experienced. That is something you can't simulate in practice. Every snap he gets, he'll have a chance to improve and take it to a different level."

Next for the Ravens

Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

Site: Cinergy Field, Cicinnati

When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 51/2

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