Will benching be a wake up call for CMac?

October 22, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

The Ravens report back to practice again today in preparation for the Oakland Raiders this Sunday.

The team is 3-3, far ahead of where many thought they’d be before the season began and are even about to go through the “soft spot” on their schedule with Oakland, Cleveland and Houston in the headlights. With a little luck, they could be 6-3 or 5-4 going up to the Meadowlands on Nov. 16th to play the defending World Champs. (BTW: Yes, seats are still available on our Miller Lite bus trip that day!)

So, what the Ravens and head coach John Harbaugh need least in the world right now is a player controversy. But, it appears, as long as Chris McAlister is on the team that won’t happen.

The team has now stated its “official” position on McAlister: he’s not one of the three best cornerbacks on the roster. He’s been demoted based on his “on field” play alone.

Personally, I find that hard to accept. But as one member of the organization said yesterday, “Did you see the Colts game? Did you see Marvin Harrison torch him?”

There are more rumors and opinions on McAlister’s personality, habits, activities and his decisions than I could list here. Most of you know about the marijuana allegations, the drinking allegations, the San Diego sendoff by Brian Billick, etc. And by now the story of three interesting young ladies who pranced out the front door of the team’s Miami hotel last weekend near the team bus is public record. (BTW: McAlister told the team they were just there for breakfast to pick up game tickets and the Ravens actually bring Baltimore police officers to guard each floor and unlike Billick, Harbaugh’s pre-game bed check is military quality.)

But the team’s position is this: “He’s not playing well. This has nothing to do with punishment. He got exposed. Fabian Washington and Frank Walker are playing better so they’ll play. Chris McAlister is No. 3 on the depth chart.”

But there’s obviously more here than meets the eye and the Ravens must believe they’re eliminating a distraction more than causing one. They maintain that they told McAlister last Wednesday that he’d be seeing less of the turf in Miami.

McAlister has had a hard time with authority from the very beginning. And Harbaugh, or “Hard Ass” as many of the players are finding out, knows that the ultimate way to punish a player is to not play him.

The message is clear: “Get better, work harder or you won’t play for me!” So much for bruised pride and strong egos.

When Samari Rolle is on the field, most teams will attack him first. Ditto Frank Walker.

So when Peyton Manning went after McAlister 10 days ago in Indianapolis and torched him, it apparently caused Rex Ryan to rethink the back end of the Ravens defense. Some thought the second TD was “a play a high school player should make.”

Apparently, some of his own teammates have lost their faith in him and don’t trust him on edge. (Players and teammates have had derogatory things to say about McAlister’s attitude and work ethic for years so this isn’t some shocking revelation.)

The Ravens have been very clear and quick to say this is an “on the field” demotion, having nothing to do with his off-the-field antics or decisions.

For the record, I don’t buy that, either.

If McAlister misses meetings or shows up late or chooses not to hit the gym (another rumor is that CMac doesn’t like going into the gym), Harbaugh and the organization can fine him under NFLPA guidelines. The fines could then lead to a suspension that would cost him real money.

But ultimately, Harbaugh’s strongest card is to say: “You’re not playing!”

But the scuttlebutt is that this was more defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s decision. And, honestly, most coaches care more about winning than they do about the feelings of a mercurial 31-year old cornerback whose teammates question his dedication to football, the team and winning.

Harbaugh’s battle cry from the first press conference has been, “Team, team, team.”

Clearly, he and Ryan think the team is better with CMac on the pine. Right now,
Fabian Washington and Frank Walker are first-teamers.

One more quote from another member of the Ravens organization:

“If he were acting and playing like the Pro Bowler we think he is and we’re paying him to be, he’d be on the field.”

It’s only Week 7 for the Ravens. This will be interesting, seeing if the team can consistently win with Washington and Walker, or whether McAlister is willing to work hard enough and swallow his pride to get back on the field.

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