Focused McAlister looks to regain form

Veteran vows to avoid lapses of '05 season


When the Ravens make their way to scrimmage the Washington Redskins today, the short trip down the interstate will symbolically mark the start of Chris McAlister's comeback trail.

It was two years ago before agame at FedEx Field that the Ravens cornerback signed his seven-year, $55 million contract, a lucrative deal that McAlister failed to live up to last season.

Wanting to reach that Pro Bowl level again, McAlister said he needed to grow more as a person than a player this offseason.

"[Maturity] was a big issue for me the past two years, just seeing where I could have made my improvements about the decisions that I'd made," said McAlister, 29. "At this point, I'm a lot better off in the choices I've made, which will affect me and my play on the field."

Few in the NFL would question McAlister's physical ability. A prototypical cornerback, he is strong enough to play bump-and-run, fast enough to cover man-to-man and savvy enough to play in zone.

McAlister's biggest opponent has always been his concentration. Lapses would ruin solid games and cause some to question McAlister's weekly preparation.

Last season, he broke up a team-leading 20 passes but came away with just one interception. It marked the first time since 2002 that he didn't make the Pro Bowl.

"For me, last season was not one that I can look back and say I played my best week in and week out, and it's all about being consistent," said McAlister, a starter since the Ravens drafted him in the first round in 1999.

"The thing I worked on most this offseason was coming back out there and giving this team what I can give them. I really couldn't tell you what it was [last season] other than maybe a lack of focus and paying attention."

McAlister has referred to himself in the past as "the black sheep" of the Ravens' family for good reason.

He was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana in 2000 and with driving under the influence in 2003. Charges were dropped in both cases.

Later in 2003, McAlister broke curfew and skipped the team meeting the next day during the Ravens' extended stay in San Diego. He was sent home and fined.

McAlister then questioned the Ravens' chemistry at the end of 2004, describing the locker room as "a little shifted."

From all indications, McAlister is working hard to distance himself from the past.

"Chris has been great," coach Brian Billick said. "From his communication with his teammates to his focus in meetings, it's been excellent."

The first sign of his new commitment was his offseason workouts.

In the past, McAlister spent much of the spring in California. This year, he bought a house in the area and became a fixture this offseason at the Ravens' training complex.

"C-Mac is one of the top three corners in the game," said cornerback Samari Rolle, who is McAlister's roommate at camp. "Every year, it's not going to be there. Sometimes you just have to come back and refocus."

McAlister became one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL in October 2004, when he signed a deal that included a $17.5 million bonus. It was a contract that McAlister had long wanted but failed to back up last season.

Now, after assessing his disappointing effort, McAlister has looked strong early in training camp, where he has broken up several passes.

The irritating part of his game remains the lack of interceptions. But after every drop in camp, McAlister drops to the ground and does 10 push-ups.

"I'm the one that set the standard," McAlister said. "I know my capabilities. It's my goal, my job and my duty to this team to come out and play like I have in the past."

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