Ravens' new guards ready to tackle doubts

Mulitalo and Flynn don't lack confidence

June 15, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens are approaching their offensive line with guarded optimism.

On a team that has cranked up its attack with two top-10 draft picks as well as Shannon Sharpe, the X-factors on offense may rest on Edwin Mulitalo and Mike Flynn, two 25-year-old guards who will head into next month's training camp as starters for the first time in their careers.

Can they withstand the rigors of a 16-game schedule? Can they handle the possibility of increased blitzes up the middle? And can they overcome the intense scrutiny that comes with the life of an NFL starter?

These are all the questions that Mulitalo and Flynn have answered in their own minds.

"I know we do both want to be an asset to the team," Mulitalo said. "We don't want to be the weak link. Although critics may say that, that's something we'll see during the season."

The Ravens are content with leaving today's final day of veterans camp with Mulitalo and Flynn as their starters and appear set on that combination for the season.

Although the team expects Kipp Vickers, Damon Denson, Orlando Bobo and Richard Mercier to compete for those spots, the Ravens gave a strong vote of confidence to their starters when they didn't work out any free-agent linemen this month and don't anticipate any additions heading into camp.

The team is banking that Mulitalo and Flynn can benefit from a veteran environment and fill the voids left when they cut Jeff Blackshear and Everett Lindsay signed with the Cleveland Browns.

Mulitalo lines up alongside left tackle Jonathan Ogden, a Pro Bowl selection the past three years. Flynn plays beside right tackle Harry Swayne, a veteran of three Super Bowls. And both will team up with center Jeff Mitchell as they bang helmets during training camp against defensive teammates Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa.

"I think there will be a big learning curve there and some growing pains," said Flynn, who was re-signed by the Ravens off Jacksonville's practice squad in 1997.

On paper, it may appear like a scary scenario.

Mulitalo didn't play for most of the first half of his rookie season last year, and Flynn has never started a NFL game. Mulitalo hasn't played in a season longer than 12 games in his life, and Flynn has spent a majority of his three-year NFL career on the inactive roster.

"It would seem that there would be more pressure on me and the tackles," said Mitchell, who completed his first full NFL season last year. "But I'm not really concerned about it."

Mitchell would know since he played with Mulitalo and Flynn for extended periods of time last season. Mulitalo started the last eight games last season after Swayne's fractured foot juggled the lineup, and Flynn logged in nearly 200 plays over his 12 games as a backup last year.

Both agreed that the biggest obstacle will be finishing out the full schedule.

"Actually when I found about playing right guard, that was the biggest thing I thought about," Flynn said. "Honestly, more than being out for my first start or playing against good players, my biggest concern is after Week 7 and the grind starts going."

At 6 feet 3, 295 pounds, Flynn is one of coach Brian Billick's most agile options at the guard spot. That came into play yesterday, when the guards worked rolling out on screen passes and pulling on runs up the middle.

Mulitalo, though, fits more in the mold of Blackshear. He uses his 6-foot-3, 328-pound body to power block, pushing and shoving defenders out of the way.

While they employ different styles, they find themselves in the same situation, trying to find a comfort level with their new responsibilities.

"There is pressure in a lot of things," Flynn said. "You're not allowed to make mistakes. Whereas before, when someone got hurt in the game and I got put, they just want you to hold your own and don't kill us. Whereas now, you have to perform and make plays."

Still, they haven't played in a Pro Bowl like Ogden. They haven't experienced a Super Bowl like Swayne. They haven't even endured an entire season like Mitchell. For right now, they remain the question marks of the offensive line.

Yet they aren't running away from that label. They just seem determined to change it.

"We saw some write-ups, saying that we still have to prove being in the NFL - and that's true. I'm all for that," Mulitalo said. "When this season is over and it's all said and done, have we proved it? I'm up for that challenge."

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