Silent approach for McAlister; Rookie not crowing after winning away DB spot from Starks


Ravens coach Brian Billick made the move to bench second-year cornerback Duane Starks in favor of rookie Chris McAlister last week. But the Ravens are trying to keep both players from talking about it to the media.

When a reporter approached McAlister, veteran safety Rod Woodson herded McAlister into a meeting room. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis declined to comment, and so did Starks as he walked into the locker room with his head bowed.

But as he was being shoved down the hallway, McAlister, who has five tackles and knocked down a team-leading six passes, said of his new starting assignment: "I knew it was going to happen sometime."

McAlister and Starks wereboth No. 1 draft picks. Both also were selected No. 10 overall, Starks in 1998 and McAlister in 1999.

Lost opportunity

When the Ravens were looking for a quarterback during the off-season, they looked Neil O'Donnell's way briefly but, apparently, not long enough. O'Donnell eventually signed with the Tennessee Titans and has led them to a share of first place in the AFC Central with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Ravens (2-2) will get another look at O'Donnell at Adelphia Coliseum tomorrow, when they play the Titans (3-1). O'Donnell, a former standout at the University of Maryland, is the AFC's third-leading passer, having completed 68 of 112 passes for 869 yards and five touchdowns.

O'Donnell had problems playing with the Cincinnati Bengals and the New York Jets during the past three seasons, but he at least has led a team to a Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The same can't be said for the Ravens' threesome of Scott Mitchell, Tony Banks and starter Stoney Case.

The Titans didn't sign O'Donnell until July 23. What happened to the Ravens?

"Brian [Billick] had a history with Scott Mitchell going back to high school, and we thought Tony Banks was young enough where he could eventually become the starter," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel.

Billick wanted a quarterback before June 1, when O'Donnell reportedly became a free agent.

"By then, we had already cast the die," Billick said. "But Neil is a quarterback [who] had already led his team to the Super Bowl. Not a lot of quarterbacks have done that."

One thing after another

It has been a non-stop year for Billick. Shortly after the Vikings lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game, he was named Ravens coach. He had to put together a staff, prepare for the draft, go through two minicamps and one training camp.

He hasn't stopped, except for a week or two, since the Vikings opened camp for the 1998 season.

"My guess is by the end of the season, on the last play and regardless of what happens or how it turns out, there is going to be a week where I get up and eat breakfast, then go back to bed," Billick said.

Still hurting

Pro Bowl defensive end Michael McCrary says he still isn't 100 percent.

McCrary had off-season knee surgery and didn't participate in the two minicamps. He also had limited workouts in training camp rehabilitating the knee.

Armour coming up big

Justin Armour and Jermaine Lewis each have caught eight passes, but there is no doubt about which receiver has been more productive. It's Armour, who had caught one pass since 1995 and had been with four teams before signing a one-year contract with the Ravens.

Armour is averaging a team-high 23.6 yards a catch. His 54-yard touchdown reception beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime last Sunday. Lewis is still trying to find his niche in Billick's offense. He is averaging 9.6 yards a catch and has yet to score.

"It's kind of a surprise," Armour said. "But it also makes sense because of the plays that are being created for me in this offense."

Tackling both spots

Offensive tackle Spencer Folau has become a valuable Raven. As the team's swing tackle, he found himself playing on the left and right sides last Sunday in Atlanta, replacing the injured Jonathan Ogden and Harry Swayne.

"When you only dress seven [linemen] like we did last week, you've got to be ready for anything as a swing tackle," Folau said.

Rising stakes

Ravens owner Art Modell said the $700 million franchise fee paid by Houston businessman Bob McNair would affect franchise prices throughout the league.

"It increases overnight the value of every team in the NFL. The price of poker goes up," he said.

But he said it won't affect his search for a minority owner and that he's not setting the price.

"The pricing will be done by Alex Brown. That's what we hired them for," he said. "But I'd rather pick the person I want rather than go for the top dollar. I'm not auctioning off anything. It's not going to go to the highest bidder. It's going to be a selective process by invitation. We're going to hand-pick the men we want."

Modell also said he had no position on realignment even though the league is likely to leave the Ravens in the AFC Central. Modell gave up his vote on realignment when he moved from Cleveland.

Shocking news

When the World Wrestling Federation came to Baltimore last year, defensive tackle Larry Webster had a backstage pass to see his former teammate and friend, Darren "The Droz" Drozdov.

Drozdov and Webster anchored a defensive line at Maryland in the early 1990s and have kept in touch since.

So he received the news with shock when he read that Drozdov was paralyzed after fracturing his neck during a match at the Nassau Coliseum this week.

"That's an unfortunate accident," Webster said. "I have to see if I can get a hold of somebody who knows him. I was surprised."

Et cetera

The availability of Ogden and Swayne will be a game-time decision. Both practiced yesterday, as did defensive tackles Webster and Tony Siragusa, who also will be game-time decisions. Safety Kim Herring (abdomen) and tight end Aaron Pierce (hip) are questionable. The Ravens put new kicker Joe Nedney on the inactive list, so Matt Stover will handle kickoffs as well as field goals. Also inactive are running back Priest Holmes, wide receiver Brandon Stokley and linebacker Tyrell Peters. The Ravens have sold out their Dec. 5 game against the Titans.

Sun staff writers Brent Jones and Vito Stellino contributed to this article.

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