Mulitalo hopes job will come up roses

Raven wary of `stink eye' from teammates as he adjusts to right tackle

August 26, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Edwin Mulitalo's biggest fear isn't his showdown with New York Giants sackmaster Michael Strahan.

It's getting hit with the stink eye.

According to Mulitalo, there's nothing worse in the Polynesian culture than someone delivering that menacing, drop-dead stare. Especially if that someone is a teammate.

Trudging through his tough transition from left guard to right tackle, Mulitalo has been focusing on improving his technique yet remains wary of the glances in the locker room.

"I don't want my peers to look at me and consider me the weak link," Mulitalo said. "It is frustrating when you can't be that dominant and you're not meeting your expectations."

Instead of getting the stink eye, the Ravens have given him a comforting pat on the back during his struggles.

"Edwin is going to remain our right tackle," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He gives us the best chance of having the best right tackle we've had since we've been here. He's getting better with every game. Right now, I can't conceive of anything other than injuries that would have us change Edwin going back inside."

The knock on Mulitalo has been his pass protection.

At 340 pounds, Mulitalo has enough size to maul defenders on running plays. But pass blocking requires finesse.

Mulitalo has yet to learn the art of backpedaling to block the path of hard-charging defensive ends. After years of being a guard using power to plug up the middle, he now has to rely on his athleticism to cut down rushers coming off the edge.

"That's why we call it the island," said left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who made a similar move from guard in his second year. "You're a loner. You're by yourself. There's a lot of fast guys rushing you. It's a different world, really."

The preseason has been a series of ups and downs.

In the opener against the Detroit Lions, Mulitalo was beaten three times by Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Porcher. The next game, he rebounded with a solid outing against the New York Jets.

But last week at Philadelphia, Mulitalo struggled to protect the interior, where rushers beat him to record a sack and two quarterback hurries.

"I didn't get worse," Mulitalo said of the Eagles game, "but I didn't get better."

The Ravens are banking on Mulitalo because there is no alternative.

The free-agent market is dried up, and the Ravens' backup, Ethan Brooks, is not considered a viable starter.

"We've committed to this course," Billick said. "Edwin is going to be fine. We knew there was going to be a learning curve. After three preseason games, those that choose to panic, did you think it was going to be any different? He's been OK and he's getting better."

The ultimate test comes Thursday, when Mulitalo matches up against Strahan. The NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year set the league record with 22 1/2 sacks last season.

"Strahan is a load for anybody," Billick said. "It's going to be a good learning curve for him."

When going head-to-head with the sack champion, the biggest key for Mulitalo is being mentally ready.

"I got to prepare like I'm going to go against him the whole game," Mulitalo said. "In a way, it's been good for me. Every week, I've gone up against a better contender."

Right tackle has long been the Ravens' black hole on the offensive line. Last year, they went through five of them, going from Leon Searcy to Harry Swayne to Sammy Williams to Erik Williams to Kipp Vickers.

The Ravens, though, are optimistic that Mulitalo won't be added to that list of failed attempts. His errors are considered correctable and are the ones seen when he played left guard.

Mulitalo has lapses when he gets lazy with his hands or doesn't take the right step. Once they can fix his mechanics, the Ravens believe Mulitalo could be more than an adequate tackle.

"Look around the league, there's a lot of teams with serious tackle problems that would love to have Edwin Mulitalo," Billick said. "It's just technique things that you have to constantly work on."

If all the Ravens' eyes are on Mulitalo in the preseason finale, he hopes he can avoid the stink ones by game's end.

"It is a frustrating time but it doesn't matter what trials I'm going through," Mulitalo said. "What matters is that I get good. My expectations for myself are high. All I can do is keep punching away."

Next for Ravens

Preseason opponent: New York Giants

Site:Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When:Thursday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet, Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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