Ready for his close-up

Injuries put undrafted Kracalik in spotlight as starting left tackle

Offensive Line

July 31, 2008|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

Mike Kracalik is ready to be reviewed.

In the NFL, quarterback and offensive tackle might be the most dissected positions on the field.

With the Ravens losing Jared Gaither and Adam Terry to ankle injuries in a span of four days, Kracalik - an undrafted free agent who turns 26 in September - immediately steps into the spotlight as the team's starting left tackle.

Kracalik (pronounced KRAH-cha-lick) said the scrutiny won't distract him.

"I don't pay any attention to that at all," he said yesterday after practice at McDaniel College in Westminster. "That's not who I am. That's not what I care about. All I'm concentrating on is getting better. If I paid attention to everything else, then I wouldn't get my job done."

Any critique will pale in comparison to the ordeal Kracalik experienced before his senior season at San Diego State in 2004.

As part of a lawsuit brought by strength and conditioning coach David Ohton, Kracalik testified in an affidavit that then-Aztecs coach Tom Craft slapped him during a team meeting in 2002.

Kracalik said Craft was trying to emphasize avoiding retaliation when he struck Kracalik.

The lineman said he was too embarrassed to discuss the incident and testified only to show that former players who began coming forward were not lying.

Kracalik's admission earned him the vitriol of San Diego State fans and talk radio hosts, who took every opportunity to belittle the then-21-year-old tackle. His own quarterback said on the radio that the incident was "no big deal."

Kevin Acee, a reporter for The San Diego Union Tribune who covered the Aztecs at that time, said Kracalik endured the controversy without complaint.

"I'm not sure what all he saw from the posters or heard on the radio," Acee wrote in an e-mail reply to The Sun. "But it was brutal. He is the nicest kid and pretty above all that stuff."

But Kracalik did not emerge unscathed. He said he turned down the coach's offer of a captain's designation after the incident became public, and called the episode the lowest point of his football career.

"That was the defining moment in my career that kind of made me embittered to football at the time," he said. "I was pretty depressed at the time. ... But any experience like that that you can go through and say that you overcame that and you stayed positive and within yourself can make you stronger and help you overcome any other obstacles."

Kracalik went undrafted in 2005 but was signed by the New York Jets. After the Jets released him in September, the Ravens added Kracalik to their practice squad.

Kracalik has shuffled between the Ravens' practice squad, active roster and waiver wire in the past three seasons. The moves frustrated him.

"I'm from San Diego and I moved all the way to the other side of the country," he said. "Then you're given no guarantees and you have to find a place to live. But I always kept a positive outlook. I was always this close, and I knew that there were ... 10 other million people who would love to be in my position."

The Ravens already have Kracalik and rookies Oniel Cousins, Joe Reitz and Sean Dumford at tackle, and yesterday they added six-year veteran Chad Slaughter to the mix, signing him to a one-year contract after they couldn't reach a deal with John Welbourn, a four-year starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. At 6 feet 8, 340 pounds, Slaughter can play at left or right tackle. He has played 43 games for the Oakland Raiders from 2002 to 2006, including seven starts.

"We're working on it right now," Harbaugh said after the morning practice. "So it's going to happen quickly."

Offensive line coach John Matsko said Kracalik possesses the tools to be a formidable tackle, and that Kracalik's 6-8, 340-pound frame gives him a strength advantage over many defensive ends.

"Once he gets his big body on you, he's hard to move," Matsko said. "As a defender, he's hard to get off of, and as a pass blocker, he's difficult to get around."

Matsko made a direct challenge to Kracalik when coach and player met for the first time.

"I just told him when I first met him, 'Hey, this is your third year. I'll know right away whether you want it or not,'" Matsko said. "And he wants it. There's no question that he wants it."

Whatever happens, Kracalik won't be deterred.

"That's always been my dream - to start," he said. "I've busted my butt for three-plus years. It's always been my dream to be a starter for this team."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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