McAlister benching a mystery

OWINGS MILLS -- The mystery behind the abrupt benching of Baltimore Ravens star cornerback Chris McAlister remained a murky, unresolved situation Monday as coach John Harbaugh was extremely vague regarding his decision to sit the three-time Pro Bowl selection for the majority of a 27-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

While insisting that McAlister's demotion wasn't tied to a discipline problem or his troublesome right knee, Harbaugh offered no guarantee Monday that the veteran would regain his starting job with the NFL's second-ranked defense Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. This was the first start McAlister has missed as Fabian Washington and Frank Walker got the nod ahead of him.

"If he's one of the guys that we feel gives us the best opportunity to play the best defense at that moment, he'll be out there," Harbaugh said. "If we think there's a guy that can do it better, then he'll be out there.

"It's a football decision. We're always going to put the best 11 players on the field for that situation. We put the 11 guys out there that we felt were the best to defend whatever we were seeing in that particular package. We had the corners out there in those situations that we wanted to have out there."

There have been multiple unconfirmed rumors about McAlister violating team rules with misconduct prior to the trip to Miami, but Harbaugh has repeatedly denied that McAlister is being punished. And Harbaugh didn't attribute the decision to McAlister, who leads the team with three interceptions, being torched for two touchdowns by Marvin Harrison in a recent 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

"We don't tie any kind of punishment to pulling a guy off the field," Harbaugh said. "We have a discipline policy in place. It's very clear-cut, and the players know what it is. That's not something that's for publication.

"Every different player has situations that come up and they're dealt with, and Chris is involved with that just like the rest of our players are. How much a guy plays is based specifically and directly to what gives the best opportunity to put our best players out there in any given situation."

However, McAlister has a history of issues since being drafted in the first round by Baltimore in 1999.

McAlister broke curfew and skipped a team meeting prior to a 2003 road game against the San Diego Chargers and was deactivated for the game and fined for violating team rules. He was acquitted of driving under the influence in Virginia in 2003, but was fined $5,000 by the team for that incident.

He was charged with possession of marijuana in 2000 when police were investigating a burglary at his residence, but the charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence.

Harbaugh was asked Monday if McAlister in the dog house.

"We don't have a dog house around here," Harbaugh said. "If you see a doghouse, let me know."

When asked Sunday why he was only involved in a handful of plays, McAlister replied: "Go ask the coach. I don't have an answer for you. He'll tell you. If I don't start next week, it's up to him."

Harbaugh alluded several times Sunday to McAlister's recurring knee problem while stressing that there hadn't been a new injury.

However, McAlister wasn't listed on the injury report prior to the Dolphins game.

When asked Monday how his knee was feeling, McAlister replied: "My knee is excellent."

McAlister told friends Monday that he's not worried about the situation.

McAlister was eating lunch in the cafeteria Friday while the rest of the team was practicing outside.

Harbaugh said that McAlister did participate in Friday's practice, though.

"I can't remember exactly what the numbers were, but he practiced Friday," Harbaugh said.

On Sunday, Harbaugh emphasized that McAlister wasn't being disciplined.

"Chris has played well, he's really worked hard this year," Harbaugh said. "There hasn't been a situation where there has been an injury, but there has been some wear and tear on it. It's not a matter of starting or not starting, it's what packages we put him in to be most effective.

"You've got to practice all week to play on Sunday, but we can't overload that knee. He could be out there starting next week. We're always looking to put the best players on the field. We had a tough game last week, we didn't play as well as we wanted to, but Chris had a great week at practice last week."

With McAlister's status up in the air and cornerback Samari Rolle hopeful of returning to the field as soon as this week as he recovers from neck surgery, Harbaugh praised Washington and Walker for their work against the Dolphins. Quarterback Chad Pennington passed for 295 yards with one touchdown pass, and linebacker Terrell Suggs returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown.

McAlister could reemerge as a starter at some point, according to Harbaugh.

"I think Ted Ginn runs about 4.3, right? So, Fabian only had to slow down just a bit to cover him and he did a great job," Harbaugh said. "And Frank played a good solid game back there. So, the opportunity to develop some corners is a plus.

"But Chris is still very much in the mix. He's part of our plans. He's going to be a part of our success or failure as we go forward, and we're counting on him to play some good football for us."


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