About Face

Ravens Training Camp

Cornerback Frank Walker Now More Competitive Than Recklessly Confrontational

August 21, 2009|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,edward.lee@baltsun.com

There are two sides to cornerback Frank Walker, and that is reflected by the nickname given to him by Ravens defensive backs coach Mark Carrier.

The bad "Tank" carries out his tasks ruthlessly, mindlessly and with little regard for how his performance can affect his teammates and the result.

The good "Tank" is more tactical, playing within the schemes drawn up by the coaching staff and being mindful of the intended - or even unintended - consequences of his actions.

Walker, his teammates and his coaches insist that the bad "Tank" is a figure getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror as Walker develops.

"That's over," Walker said after practice Thursday at McDaniel College in Westminster. "I'm not like that anymore."

That's not to suggest, however, that Walker has become meeker or isn't willing to engage in skirmishes. This preseason, Walker has gone toe-to-toe with wide receivers Derrick Mason and Kelley Washington.

Washington, who is no stranger to chatter himself, said Walker reminds him of Washington Redskins cornerback and loudmouth Fred Smoot.

"Frank's just a competitive player," Washington said. "He likes to talk a lot, and that's just his game. He's an aggressive player and a guy who's going to be in your face. He's going to let you know that he's there, and he's just got that style to him. He's made some big plays out there. This whole camp, he's been aggressive and he's really challenging our receivers."

Walker's propensity for mixing it up with opponents tends to overshadow his value to the Ravens, who signed the 5-foot-11, 200-pound cornerback to a two-year contract before last season.

With Fabian Washington and Samari Rolle missing time because of bulging discs in their necks and Chris McAlister relegated to injured reserve because of a knee injury, Walker became a significant contributor, playing in 15 games and starting five.

Walker, who tied free safety Ed Reed for the second-most pass breakups (14) on the Ravens behind Washington's 19, might have impressed the coaching staff when he dislocated his left shoulder in the AFC championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and refused to sit out the contest.

When Washington and Rolle were healthy, Walker was the defense's nickel back and frequently was assigned to opponents' tight ends - the "tight end killer," secondary coach Chuck Pagano called him.

When Washington or fellow starter Domonique Foxworth need a breather in training camp, Walker has been the player off the sideline.

"The way I look at it is, Fabian and Fox are on the outside and may run with the [first defense], but at any moment, if something happened, we have no fear of putting Frank in, and there's no drop-off," Pagano said. "We look at him as a starter."

Per Pagano's instructions, Walker spent the offseason working on his lateral movement and change-of-direction skills. Walker said he spent many hours running sideways through a rope ladder and even marching sideways up a steep hill in Atlanta.

Walker has not been getting as many repetitions at nickel back, as the coaches have tried to gauge Chris Carr's transition from the Tennessee Titans. For his part, Walker said he doesn't care where the coaches put him.

"It doesn't matter to me," Walker said. "I just want to be on the field. I'll try anything. At the end of the day, it's all the same. Nickel is a little harder, but at the end of the day, I'll take it all the same."

Despite Walker's on-field performance, his on-field antics have caught greater attention. More observers remember what he called his "slobber" incident with Steelers punter and holder Mitch Berger last December than his 3.9 grade-point average at Booker T. Washington High in Tuskegee, Ala., his business and marketing major at Tuskegee University and a charitable foundation, which hosts an annual football camp in Tuskegee, that he funds entirely by himself.

"I do things out of my heart and how they make me feel," he said. "I don't really do stuff for the accolades. I do stuff for the people I'm doing it for."

At the same time, Walker said he won't shy away from a good back-and-forth.

"If something presents itself, I definitely don't back down," he said. "If there's something said and I disagree, I will say, 'I disagree.' "

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said he doesn't mind Walker exchanging verbal barbs with opponents - within reason.

"I love enthusiasm out of every player - as long as it doesn't hurt the team," Mattison said. "But I love enthusiasm. It's too hard of a game not to be enthusiastic about it."

SECOND

PRESEASON GAME

Jets@Ravens, Monday, 8 p.m.

TV: Ch. 11, ESPN

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

TODAY

Practices at 8:45 p.m. (open to public) and 2:45 p.m. (closed)

INSIDE

Pressure's on punter Koch PG 3

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