McAlister to attend minicamp

OWINGS MILLS — One year ago, the Baltimore Ravens held a minicamp shrouded by unfamiliarity and uncertainty following a salary-cap crunch. Broaching the subject of a depth chart lacking much in the way of depth was greeted with gallows' humor. As the Ravens assemble today for three days of a full-team minicamp likely to include franchise cornerback Chris McAlister under a participation agreement, they consider their roster fortified by comparison.

"We had our first minicamp at this time last year and, 50 percent of the squad, we didn't even know who they were," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Well, that has changed."

Free agency, the college draft and the retention of several second-year players who took advantage of the roster purge to contribute to last season's 7-9 campaign are positive factors the Ravens point toward in assessing the state of the team.

After missing the playoffs last year for the first time in two years, the Ravens expect to be legitimate contenders again in the AFC North as linebacker Ray Lewis works his way back from surgery to repair a damaged shoulder.

Their confidence is bolstered by the addition of veterans such as receivers Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson, offensive tackle Orlando Brown, defensive back Corey Fuller along with two first-round picks in outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and quarterback Kyle Boller.

"What you're going to see is a team one year removed from being in playoff contention," Newsome said. "And it's a team that at about four or five positions it's going to be very competitive as to who is going to make the roster."

Those positions include tight end, safety, receiver, defensive line and offensive line. Plus, the starting quarterback job depends upon Chris Redman's health as he has recovered well from back surgery along with the pace of Boller's development.

Ravens coach Brian Billick said he won't have to spell out to his players that the stakes have been raised in terms of making the team, or being assured of playing time.

Brown will likely start at right tackle, and Suggs could supplant Cornell Brown at outside linebacker. Adalius Thomas and Marques Douglas are battling at right end as well as Joe Salavea and Jarrett Johnson.

The roster currently has 73 players, including defensive end Michael McCrary who is likely to retire after June 1. The club will announce the signing of a small group of undrafted rookie free agents today.

"They will see how competitive it's going to be," Billick said. "That's going to make us a better football team."

Meanwhile, team officials expect McAlister to attend the camp despite not having signed his one-year tender of $5.962 million, which is the average salary of the five highest-paid cornerbacks.

Originally, the Ravens didn't anticipate McAlister attending offseason camps while they continued to negotiate with his agent, Mitch Frankel.

Redman, who has yet to sign his $1.3 million tender offer, is working under a similar participatory arrangement.

"It is our understanding that Chris is going to try to be here, but there is some paperwork that has to be completed for that to happen," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Until that paperwork is completed, there isn't much that can be said other than that he is planning to attend. I've spoken to Chris and Chris is amenable to the process."

A March 15 deadline expired to negotiate a long-term contract extension for McAlister, and there's a penalty of losing the right to designate any player with the franchise tag for the entire length of the contract if a deal was reached before July 15.

The Ravens could have McAlister play under the franchise tag this season after he signs the tender while still holding contract discussions to work out a longer pact.

"Chris wants to play football," Ravens secondary coach Donnie Henderson said. "I'd like to think that he would play football even if money wasn't involved. Chris understands the business part of it.

"He wants to be here and both sides in the negotiation process are aware that the best thing is for Chris to be here. In any business investment, you protect that investment so you get a return on it."

This will be Redman's first public workout since the aggravation of a back injury suffered in college ended his season and handed the job to Jeff Blake, who has since signed with the Arizona Cardinals.

Redman was 3-3 as a starter last fall, when he passed for 1,034 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions on 53.4 percent accuracy for a quarterback rating of 76.1.

Billick stressed that Redman is the starter and will take an appropriate amount of work befitting that status at minicamp. As Billick stated when Boller was drafted with the 19th overall selection, it's a competition with Redman way out in front at the moment.

"I've had the chance to watch Chris throw from my window the last couple of weeks and you can see that he's getting stronger and stronger," Newsome said. "This will be a good opportunity for Chris and Kyle, Anthony Wright and Grant Noel, the other quarterback, to show what they can do.

"It's a building process and a developmental process. Our decisions will be predicated on us getting off to a good start against Pittsburgh in September."

NOTE: Newsome didn't rule out signing a veteran quarterback after June 1, but said the team prefers to give its younger players every chance to succeed.

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