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McAlister aims to lead by example

Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister is not the type to make speeches designed to rally the troops, so he won't say much this week.

He will, however, arrive for practice a little earlier, stay a little later, watch that extra bit of film and lead by example, not by words, as he readies the Ravens' secondary for Sunday's home opener against the Cleveland Browns at M&T; Bank Stadium.

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It started yesterday, when McAlister was at the team complex on the players' day off.

"Personally, I'm making a challenge to myself to step up my practice habits," said McAlister, who has the longest tenure with the Ravens in the secondary. "By doing that, hopefully that will encourage the other guys to do it as well.

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"I'm not really a big talker. I don't go around cheering guys up, giving guys pep talks and having a pep rally. That's not me. I just lead by example. I personally have got to step it up, and am going to go out there [in practice today] like it's Sunday, and practice like how I'm going to play."

The rededication comes after the Pittsburgh Steelers easily handled the Ravens' pass defense in a 34-15 victory Sunday.

Though it looked like McAlister struggled as usual against Steelers receivers Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward, the Ravens were mostly pleased with his showing.

"The thing you look at is that he didn't get beat vertically," said secondary coach Donnie Henderson. "And that is what you want as a coach."

Nor did he give up any touchdowns, as McAlister was quick to point out afterward, but he failed to make the play on catches of 19 and 16 yards by Burress on the Steelers' first two possessions.

Though he was not solely responsible for making those plays (safety help could have come quicker both times), it was a familiar result for McAlister, who has had the roughest moments of his five-year career trying to contain Burress.

Burress and Ward combined for 15 catches and two touchdowns, and they have a history of getting under McAlister's skin. Midway through the fourth quarter, Ward brought to the forefront McAlister's volatile temper.

"Biggest lesson learned? You can't break down mentally," McAlister said. "A lot of bad things happen and you can give up a lot of points that way."

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He was referring to assignment mistakes and not his mental lapse. McAlister said he was not taken out of his game by some of the antics - and production - of Ward and Burress, though he was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after pushing Ward in the fourth quarter.

It continued a disturbing trend for McAlister. In one notable instance last season, he ripped the helmet off New Orleans Saints receiver Donte Stallworth and flung it in the end zone.

McAlister seems to have built a reputation around the league for losing his cool once his opponent makes a couple of catches. Ward said as much after the game, but McAlister, stringing together a host of profanities, defended his actions.

"The ref didn't say anything," McAlister said. "A guy walks up from behind and starts talking [stuff]. I turn around, and the [guy] was right there. What am I supposed to do, walk away from him? They didn't throw a flag on him, and he started the [stuff].

"I walked away from a lot of [stuff] the other day, with Hines Ward in particular. He was holding, grabbing on me and talking, and I didn't say two words."

If that's true, it would be an improvement from a year ago. But does he need an anger management course, and if so, can he ever really become the leader of the Ravens' secondary?

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"There is a perception of him that's not real," said assistant defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman, who had 36 career interceptions in his nine-year NFL career as a cornerback/safety for Dallas and St. Louis. "When you look at Chris game after game and study the tape, Chris is a competitor. You have to be a little on the edge when you play out there because it is a one-on-one battle in an overall war.

"There is going to be someone in your face, and some people don't understand that. As long as it doesn't go overboard, you're fine. I think Chris plays the position the way it needs to be played."

McAlister's Pro Bowl aspirations may have taken a hit with Sunday's performance. And that could be why he plans to put in the extra effort this week, with the hope that others will follow.

"It was the first game," McAlister said. "That's not going to detour me from exercising my body and my mind and getting me where I want to go."


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