It takes a lot to get under the skin of Ovie Mughelli. Around the Ravens' practice facility in Owings Mills, the fourth-year fullback is one of the most mild-mannered and polite players.
But ask him about pre-draft reports in 2003 questioning his ability to catch the ball, and he's no longer Mr. Nice Guy.
"Don't even get me started on that," the 6-foot-1, 255-pound Mughelli said with a smile, but also with a no-nonsense shake of the head. "I don't know who started that vicious rumor that I couldn't catch.
"I've been able to catch the ball since my rookie year. ... Unfortunately, perception is reality, and once a couple of reporters read from one reporter that he can't catch, they spread that wildly, and it got into people's mind-sets. But I've been able to do this for a long time."
Mughelli, 26, is just beginning to display his pass-catching ability, and perhaps not coincidentally, he has been the beneficiary of extended playing time lately.
In the past two games, Mughelli has caught five passes - one more than he had in his career up to that point. In a 20-point comeback win against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 12, Mughelli caught three passes for 44 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown, the first of his career.
Against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, he had two receptions for 14 yards. But more important, Mughelli was the primary blocker in the Ravens' I formation and helped open holes for running back Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 91 yards and tied a career best with three rushing touchdowns.
"He [Mughelli] just continues to get better - the confidence that the players have in him and that he has in himself, his physicality," coach Brian Billick said. "And he's showing that he can catch the ball."
Mughelli's potential has been known by league insiders. He scored 12 touchdowns as a senior at Wake Forest in 2002, and at the Senior Bowl in January 2003, NFL scouts, general managers and coaches watched Mughelli pile-drive Michigan linebacker Cato June and Ohio State linebacker Matt Wilhelm during practice. Mughelli - whose first name means "king" in the native language of his Nigerian-born parents - was quickly touted as the No. 1 prospect at fullback.
The Ravens used a fourth-round pick to select Mughelli, but he began his career behind Alan Ricard on the depth chart. While Mughelli forged a spot on special teams, he hungered to be the team's starting fullback.
"It's what I focused on in the offseason when I was out there running up hills and doing stadium steps and working out and running until I passed out," Mughelli said. "Since I got here, I've been trying to show the coaches and show my teammates that I can be a starting fullback on this team. I'm not here just to take up space."
After Ricard was waived by the Ravens this past offseason, Mughelli and Justin Green rotated at fullback. But with former offensive coordinator Jim Fassel often opting for a two-tight end set rather than an I formation, Mughelli rarely got an opportunity to develop a rapport with Lewis.
That seemed to change when Billick relieved Fassel on Oct. 17. The offense returned to the I formation, and the results have been positive.
Lewis rushed for 109 yards - his first 100-yard game of the season - against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 29. The next week, Lewis gained 72 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals and scored for the first time since the season opener.
Lewis said he and Mughelli have begun to connect in the backfield.
"Now that Coach is really putting the packages in with us in the game, we get a better feel for each other, and the chemistry just builds over time," Lewis said. "Ovie will tell me, 'Look, this is what I'm going to do on this play,' and I tell him, 'OK, do this on that play' or 'I'm going to read it this way.' It's just intertwined, and it works out."
Mughelli said he will always cherish the touchdown against Tennessee, but said he is also proud of his block that leveled San Diego Chargers defensive end Shawne Merriman (Maryland) in the Ravens' 16-13 victory Oct. 1.
Mughelli said his goal is to earn a Pro Bowl invitation, but he understands that the path to such an honor is a long and arduous journey.
"It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "Consistency is going to be the big thing with me. ... I'm living my dream right now. I couldn't ask for anything more. I just want to continue to grow and improve with every game."