McAlister: Ravens' locker room is divided

Chris McAlister apparently didn't receive the memo about the supposed unity in the Baltimore Ravens' locker room.<br><br> In the midst of Baltimore (8-7) losing four of five games and clinging to a slim hope of earning a wild-card berth, deep disappointment has given way to an apparent divide within the team.<br><br> Contradicting statements by coach Brian Billick and several teammates Wednesday, McAlister insisted that the $31 million training complex is no longer a fun place to work.

"I can't really put my finger on it, but it's not the same feeling," McAlister said. "Maybe it's because we're losing, coming off last year and not being able to follow up and meet expectations. Maybe that's what got this locker room different."

The Ravens proclaimed themselves to be prime Super Bowl contenders this summer. And new majority owner Steve Bisciotti orchestrated an October move into a modern football palace that includes a luxurious players' lounge.

Now, players don't spend as much time in the locker room as they did in the decrepit Colts' training complex they used to inhabit.

"It used to be real loose and we used to have a lot of fun in here, a lot of guys laughing and having a good time," McAlister said. "It's not that same way. Maybe it's because the place was a lot smaller and this is bigger, I don't know.

"But people found a way around the locker room to somebody else's locker. Now, it's like everyone stays in their own little corner."

There was a notable absence from one corner of the locker room.

Linebacker Ray Lewis didn't make himself available to local reporters, just as he didn't after a bone-bruising 20-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was joined in his silence by safety Ed Reed.

"You can tell the mood around here is kind of sad, and guys aren't used to this," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "Guys are searching for answers. Everybody is accountable when things do go wrong because we do have a lot of talent.

"I think disappointment can cause cracks in teams, but we have great team chemistry."

Since moving to their fancy new digs, the players have multiple options besides hanging out in the locker room, which features oak stalls and Internet connections for every player.

They can play PlayStation or pinball in their lounge. They can dine in an expanded cafeteria, or exercise in a gigantic weight room.

"This is probably the best locker room in the NFL, and I'm not talking about how expensive it is," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "This is definitely a great group of guys. It's sad that our record is what it is, but I don't think there's any tension.

"We're all one big happy family."

The Ravens are on the brink of elimination from the playoffs, needing a win over the Miami Dolphins and major assistance from three teams. If Buffalo, Denver or Jacksonville win, the Ravens' season is over.

"It does look bleak," McAlister said. "It's almost like playing the Lotto."

Despite returning eight Pro Bowl selections and having five players named this year, the Ravens are in an unenviable position.

And questions are swirling about where the tranquility has gone.

"I think whenever you're not winning more rumors and hearsay seems to come out of the locker room," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "The guys look around and see the talent we have and it's frustrating that we're not winning.

"We're kind of sitting on the brink of not making the playoffs, and that can come off maybe as dissension in the locker room."

Baltimore began the season 7-3, but went 3-5 against a treacherous road schedule.

"It's not a healthy situation," McAlister said, noting a home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals as when things turned for the worse. "I'm not a psychologist. It can easily be repaired."

Suggs insisted there isn't one clique that doesn't socialize with the other players.

When Weaver was asked if he was part of the ‘cool' clique, he quipped, "I'm one of the nerds."

Did dissension contribute to the late-season collapse?

"I think you're mistaken," Billick told a questioner who insisted there was a chasm in the team. "We have a lot of guys that have progressed through their lives and are different than they were two or three years ago. They have kids, they have families. There are frustrations, there are anxieties, but they're handling them collectively.

"Those that want to make those observations that are not in that locker room are doing so with another agenda."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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