Contract in hand, Mulitalo aims to stay awhile

Five-year starter at guard wants to be a top player

Pro Football

October 15, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Edwin Mulitalo signed a contract extension in February, so his job security ranks right up there with that of Ravens cornerstones Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden. To ensure that Mulitalo - who has started at left guard much of the past five seasons and is signed on for six more years after this one - does not get complacent, his 59-year-old fiery position coach intercedes.

"I ain't going to let him," Ravens offensive line coach Jim Colletto said. "If I sense any kind of slacking off, he knows about it. He's got a lot of character about him. He does not want to fail or look bad, and it's important for him to be a good player. He does the things you ask him to do."

It has been that way since the beginning, when the Ravens drafted Mulitalo out of Arizona in the fourth round in 1999. He started the last eight games that year, and outside of a brief experiment at right tackle, has since teamed with Ogden to form one of the league's most physical left sides.

He missed most of the Ravens' 26-18 victory over the Arizona Cardinals after spraining an ankle on the first possession, but Mulitalo expects to play Sunday at Cincinnati.

If Mulitalo does get the start, it would be the 58th of his career, the second most of any current player on the Ravens' offense behind Ogden's 116.

Mulitalo has missed just three games since becoming a starter.

"He is as solid a guard as there is in the league," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's not particularly demonstrative, and people don't care a lot about guards anyway. He's not boisterous, but he's started pretty much since the day he got here. And you get used to having him there all the time."

At 6 feet 3, 340 pounds, Mulitalo is one of the heavier guards in the league. Now he is fighting to move beyond being a solid player to being one of the best.

Mulitalo looks at the six straight Pro Bowls his line partner Ogden has been to and wonders whether he will get to that level. If he does, Mulitalo will have undoubtedly improved in his pass-blocking, the one skill that has kept him from becoming one of the top players.

But with so many starts already, has Mulitalo become as good as he will ever be?

"I have a tough time thinking any player is there and has no chance of getting better," Billick said. "There comes a point where you get to an age and things start to diminish a bit, but he's not anywhere close to that. His cumulative knowledge of the game continues to grow.

"But he's there in the sense that he's seen just about everything he's going to see, and he certainly knows the offense."

And he also knows how to knock defensive tackles to help pave the way for Jamal Lewis' league-leading 742 rushing yards. Mulitalo just needs more flexibility.

"He's got to continue to work on being a better knee-bender, because he is a big man who when he plays with a good bend in his knees and really unloads on people, does a good job," Colletto said. "But he still plays a little too high.

"He can improve a lot on his pass protection and the use of his hands. He can do a lot in that area. And just his knowledge of defenses has gotten much better. Being with J-O [Ogden], he's much more assertive."

So much so the Ravens are starting to pull Mulitalo out on sweeps along with Ogden more than they had in the past.

It is further evidence for Mulitalo that he can continue to grow with the Ravens, and that he made the right decision when he declined to shop his services around and sign a contract that will pay him $15.5 million over seven years.

"I came in with the expectations that I'd like to be here," Mulitalo said. "The way the league is nowadays, guys don't usually stay in a place that long, especially if you're not the premier guys. I don't consider myself as one of those poster boys for the Baltimore Ravens. But I do consider myself a part of the community and a part of Baltimore. Hopefully I can end my career here."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (3-2) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (1-4)

Site: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 2

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