McAlister primed to bounce back

WESTMINSTER -- Chris McAlister didn't look as alert as usual during a fairly casual backpedal, retreating slowly in the secondary in single coverage. However, the Baltimore Ravens' veteran cornerback was just baiting rookie quarterback Joe Flacco into an interception Friday morning at McDaniel College

It was yet another indicator that the three-time Pro Bowl selection's knowledge of the game is as much a boon to the defense as his size and athleticism.

Even though McAlister, 31, has reached an age where most defensive backs are pondering retirement and he's coming off an injury-marred, disappointing season, it's still an adjustment for him to deal with the fact that he has become an elder statesman that younger players seek out for advice.

"I still feel like one of the young guys," McAlister said. "They look up to me in a way that, at times, catches me off-guard, and they ask questions and what advice I can give, all the help I can give.

"To that aspect, it kind of makes me appreciate being able to play as long as I have that I can help someone else to give them the knowledge that I have."

For McAlister, this is a pivotal time as he's still recovering from offseason knee surgery. He missed half the season last year with a strained right knee.

Prior to last season, he had missed just six games in eight seasons because of injuries.

Last year, though, McAlister dipped to 23 tackles and one interception. This followed one of his top seasons in 2006 when he registered six interceptions and 47 tackles while leading the league with 22 pass deflections and scoring two touchdowns prior to being named to his third Pro Bowl.

"Last year is last year," McAlister said. "I'm moving on to another year. I really don't have anything to say about it."

Yet, last season demonstrated just how much the Ravens' defense needs McAlister's physical presence.

Without the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder in the lineup, the Ravens allowed a league-high 15 passes of more than 50 yards, ranked third from the bottom with 53 plays of 20 yards or higher and 20th overall in passing defense with 222.3 yards surrendered per contest.

McAlister claims that his knee is 100 percent healthy, calling it as "100 as 100 can be."

However, he still seems to be favoring the knee and doesn't appear to have full confidence in his leg yet.

"It will take him a minute," secondary coach Chuck Pagano said. "Once you get up in age and you have a knee issue, it can be tough. He looks fluid.

"He's a tough, veteran guy. He's going to push through it. Each day, you'll see him take one step closer to getting back to the way he played in 2006."

The Ravens and McAlister don't seem concerned about the knee and regard his progress as positive as he works his way into playing shape after opening camp on the non-football injury list. McAlister didn't immediately pass a conditioning test of timed 150-yard shuttle runs.

"Chris is fine," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "I love it because he's working through it, and he's doing an outstanding job. It's good to see a smile on his face, and when he runs out there, I feel pretty confident."

McAlister signed a seven-year, $55 million contract extension in 2004.

Now, the 1999 first-round draft pick must prove to a new coaching staff that he can regain his old form as he recovers from his first major injury since he began playing football as an 8-year-old in Pasadena, Calif.

McAlister said he hopes to play football as long as former Ravens safety Rod Woodson, who played 17 seasons and was named to nine Pro Bowls with 71 career interceptions. He said he envisions himself eventually following in Woodson's footsteps and moving to safety whenever he loses a step.

When asked to name the key to his longevity, McAlister replied: "God. He's taken care of me this far, and I've only had one major injury my entire life. Knock on wood, somewhere."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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