Guard Edwin Mulitalo didn't get much of a chance to enjoy the Ravens' success in 2006. His season was cut short after four games because of an arm injury. Like most of the veterans, he wants at least one more shot at a title run with the Ravens.
Unlike previous years, though, Mulitalo isn't guaranteed starting, even though he has three years remaining on his contract. Second-year guard Jason Brown played well after replacing Mulitalo, and there is speculation Mulitalo might be released or be asked to take a pay cut as a backup.
So far, the eight-year veteran hasn't heard from management. As far as Mulitalo is concerned, he has about 80 percent of the strength back in his upper body, and he can't wait to step back onto the field.
"Watching the season hurt more than the injury," said Mulitalo, who tore the triceps muscle in his right arm against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 1. "Everyone knows that you're going to get hurt at some time. Few players leave this game without getting cut on. But to see your team playing so well, and they're doing it without you, is really hard."
Mulitalo expects to be 100 percent in a couple of weeks, which would give him more than enough time to get ready for the 2007 season. He has been through this before, suffering the same injury to his left arm in the 2004 regular-season finale.
"It's like someone kicks you in your arm, followed by excruciating pain," Mulitalo said. "Then later, the muscle starts curling up. The last time, I knew what was wrong. I knew I was done. Within 20 seconds, I told Bill T [trainer Bill Tessendorf] that I was following him to the locker room."
After the second torn triceps, Mulitalo spent about a month in a makeshift cast. Two weeks later, he started motion exercises using light dumbbells. While in rehabilitation, he watched every game and tried to serve as a consultant during home games. When training camp opened, he spent a lot of time with younger players, such as Brown and rookie center-guard Chris Chester. Brown, though, had to get on-the-job training.
Mulitalo says he was impressed.
"I tried to give him as much help as I could once the season started, but then I was done," Mulitalo said. "After that, there wasn't much I could do except be there for my team. He stepped in and played well. Overall, I thought the offensive line did a nice job."
What did Brown give the Ravens that Mulitalo couldn't?
Brown, out of North Carolina, has more athleticism and quicker feet. He could make blocks at the second level that Mulitalo couldn't. Brown also is a better pass blocker and certainly more versatile because he can play center and guard.
But as far as sheer power and initial burst, it's no contest. At 6 feet 3 and 350 pounds, Mulitalo can move even the biggest defensive tackles. Mulitalo also is a team guy. Teammates like his attitude, and they know he plays hard all the time.
"The team hasn't told me anything, so I just continue to prepare," Mulitalo said. "Until they tell me something, I expect to come to training camp and compete."
Actually, he can't wait to get to training camp. Mulitalo rededicated himself during the past offseason, shedding about 25 pounds. No player spent more time in the weight room, and Mulitalo often worked out twice a day. He reported in great shape, as did the two other veterans on the offensive line, center Mike Flynn and left tackle Jonathan Ogden.
Mulitalo said he hasn't spoken with Ogden about possible retirement plans, but assumes his longtime offensive line partner will inform him when the time comes.
"I think J.O. has a couple of years left," Mulitalo said of Ogden. "He can play as long as he wants to play because he is still better than most tackles out there. I assume he is coming back. I told him to put me near the top of his text-message list if he doesn't. It would be strange being out there without him. I've played with other tackles like Adam Terry, but not for an extended time. It would be a learning curve without him. But with the season ending the way it did, he'll come back."
That seems to be the rallying cry for 2007. Mulitalo said he plans on honoring his contract, and he wants another playoff run with his veteran buddies. Even though he didn't play much last season, Mulitalo liked what he saw from the sideline.
"As a team, we graded out to a B-plus, and it would have been an A except for that playoff loss," Mulitalo said. "But Steve McNair made a huge difference on this team. We had weapons, and as long as the offense holds up its end of the bargain, we're going to be tough to beat. The thought of retirement has gone though my mind because I'm not getting any younger, but I think I can still contribute to this team. As long as I think that way, I want to play."
Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at www.baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral.