Ravens' secondary in holding pattern

Although the Baltimore Ravens' training camp is over, the defending AFC North champions' secondary remains in a holding pattern.<br><br> The waiting game for the reinforcements of cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Deion Sanders is still afoot.

Ravens coach Brian Billick has been in communication with Sanders and expects to learn by Monday whether the seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback will end his retirement as a nickel back in Baltimore.

"It was a great conversation," Billick said. "I'm excited about his perspective, where he was at mentally, what he needed to do. This was very well thought out. That's what jumped out at me in my conversation with Deion. We've been at this now for probably close to a month. This wasn't, ‘Gee, I want to play. How about I do this or that?' There was a structure to it, a schedule to it.

"That impressed me and sold me on the fact that this had some real validity to it. Again, we have to wait until he decides. The timeframe, we have not quite reached that point yet that he had indicated he was going to go to, so I've got to qualify it all. I like the way it's laid out in his mind."

Meanwhile, McAlister skipped the entire training camp to express his dissatisfaction with being assigned the franchise tag for the second consecutive year. The Pro Bowl cornerback has missed a scrimmage and two preseason contests.

McAlister, 27, has yet to sign his one-year, $7.1 million tender and can't be fined under league rules for his absence because he's technically not under contract. It's unclear when he'll return and his agent, Mitch Frankel, acknowledged that there's no specific time table and said the two sides remain far apart in stalled negotiations for a long-term deal.

"It's unrealistic to think that Chris could show up the week of the Cleveland game and go in and play a 65-snap game," Billick said. "That would not be in his best interests. It wouldn't be in our best interests. Obviously, it's our hope that he'll come in in time to get himself adequately prepared for the opener.

"Whether that means snaps in the last preseason game or not, that's secondary to me as compared to a cumulative amount of time to make sure he's physically in the right spot. I have no doubt he's in shape. But there's cardiovascular shape, there's football shape and then there's hitting shape. It's the last two I have to concern myself with. He will come in when he sees fit."

As for Sanders, 37, who has been training at his Texas estate with highly-regarded speed coach Tom Shaw, Billick dismissed an ESPN report that Sanders would join the team in October or November depending upon how the Ravens are doing.

Shaw told Sporting News Radio that Sanders will run time trials today and then make a decision after an extensive workout Friday to gauge his readiness for football.

"Whoever said he would come in October or November didn't talk to Deion, didn't talk to me, just decided that sounded good," Billick said.

A decade older than McAlister, Sanders intercepted 48 passes during stints with the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons.

Sanders is regarded as one of the top cover cornerbacks in league history and a future Hall of Fame selection.

Billick said the team views Sanders' potential addition as a bonus, adding that the team has alternate plans if this doesn't happen.

"The parameters are very clearly set," Billick said. "When he's ready to take that step, he understands what our thoughts are on it in terms of the adequate time he needs to integrate with the team. We are being respectful of the time he needs to get ready.

"That has to be the No. 1 priority. I don't have a deadline. This is a little different. This is his deadline. He's either going to stay retired or he's not."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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