Mulitalo back in his comfort zone

<p>Stage left remains a popular destination when the Baltimore Ravens run the football. That's because bulky blocker Edwin Mulitalo enters this season back in his familiar, confined territory at left offensive guard next to massive All-Pro tackle Jonathan Ogden. The mismatches against pass rushers created by a short-lived experiment of Mulitalo at right tackle at the start of last season were glaring enough for the coaching staff to shift him back permanently.&nbsp;</p>

Beyond wanting to take advantage of the attributes of one of their largest players, the Ravens wanted to maintain the continuity between Ogden and Mulitalo. That side is traditionally where running back Jamal Lewis has gained the majority of his yards from scrimmage, bursting through openings they cleared with pounding blocks. The Ravens rewarded the jovial Mulitalo, 28, with a seven-year contract this winter worth $15.5 million, including a $4 million signing bonus. "Edwin's a big man who's got a fair amount of agility, and having him next to Ogden gives you a very formidable side," offensive line coach Jim Colletto said. "He's very intelligent. You wouldn't know it from the way he is off the field, but he's a tough guy. "He'll battle your fanny from the start of the game to the end. He's aggressive. He's got the attitude and temperament you like to have in a lineman." 

A native of American Samoa, Mulitalo is entering his fifth season since the Ravens drafted him in the fourth round out of the University of Arizona. Since then, he has started 44 consecutive games and become a fixture on the left side. During his second season in the league, Mulitalo helped pave the way for Lewis' club-record 1,364 rushing yards as Baltimore ranked fifth in the league in rushing and won the Super Bowl. Mulitalo is back in his comfort zone, but Ravens coach Brian Billick doesn't want the veteran lineman easing back into his work the way someone sinks into a deep-seated couch. "What he can't do is get too comfortable to where he doesn't focus because he knows he has been there so many different times before," Billick said. "So, it's a different type of challenge for him. It's getting to the point where he has got to crank his camp up a little bit." 

Because Mulitalo is assured of a roster spot and a starting position with no one emerging to push him for repetitions, the Ravens want him to stay self-motivated. That means Mulitalo has to demand a high standard from each run block and pass protection. "He knows he's on the team and he knows he'll be out there against the Steelers," Colletto said. "There are always things guys have to get better at and he can't be negligent on that stuff. "Not much is going to happen to him on the field that he hasn't seen. So, he should be a real efficient player. So long as he stays in good shape and stays healthy he should do real well." Mulitalo said there's no danger of him relaxing and leaving himself susceptible to mental or physical lapses.

Instead of the nimble feet that tackle required against swift defensive ends and outside linebackers, Mulitalo's blocky physique is a top asset for him in the scrum of the interior line. The Ravens have a 33-20 record with him in the lineup, and Mulitalo is concentrating on improving his conditioning along with the offense's efficiency. "Collectively, we have to step it up a level and that's for me, too," Mulitalo said. "I feel good, but I'm always critical of the way my shape is. The main thing is my assignments are easier. "The footwork is always going to be a challenge. You always want to get better. That's what football is all about."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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