Lewis' fleet feet could speed impact Ex-Terp fast to impress at Ravens' minicamp

April 28, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

As a high school sprinter, he had the kind of speed that could have taken him to the Olympics, but Jermaine Lewis always considered himself a football player first.

The Ravens certainly agree with that evaluation. When they took the former Maryland star in the fifth round of last week's NFL draft, the Ravens envisioned a receiving and kick returning threat of the future.

As his first minicamp experience draws to a close -- rookies leave the two-week camp after today -- Lewis has turned heads once again.

He may be the fastest player in camp, not surprising for a guy who set a national record at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George's County in 1991, when he was clocked in 20.8 seconds in the 200-meter dash. His time of 10.3 seconds in the 100 meters that year was the country's second-best.

"He can run, believe me, he can run," said veteran cornerback Antonio Langham, who watched Lewis catch a sideline pass in his first workout after exploding off the line of scrimmage into Langham's zone coverage area. "He took off, and I came back to the huddle and said, 'Hey, this guy can run.'

"A lot of fast guys come out [of college], but they don't have the smarts and the skills to make it in this league. If he puts those skills together and can learn the system, he's got a good shot. I kind of get the feeling they like him around here just by how much they are using him."

Lewis has had a busy weekend, splitting time in the Ravens' receiving rotation and kick return units. The team drafted him primarily to fill a pressing need for a return man, but coach Ted Marchibroda sees Lewis being included in some three- and four-receiver sets.

The idea is to get Lewis, 5 feet 7 and 172 pounds, into the open field, where he did the most damage in Maryland's run-and-shoot offense. He set an Atlantic Coast Conference record with 193 career receptions and shattered Terrapins marks with 2,932 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns.

"This is like starting over as a freshman again. I'm just taking it all in," said Lewis, 21. "I just want to get the feel for it, get the nervousness out, so when training camp opens [in July], I'll know the plays and be ready to produce."

Lewis didn't waste much time producing at the collegiate level. In his first and only punt return as a freshman, he returned it 42 yards for a touchdown. That same year, he averaged 26.8 yards per kickoff return. He wound up his Maryland career averaging 24 yards per kick return and 12 yards on punts.

Ravens special teams coach Scott O'Brien said there is more to Lewis' elusiveness than raw speed.

"Just because a guy is fast running from Point A to Point B doesn't mean he can return kickoffs," O'Brien said. "He is not a speedy straight-line guy, he's an athlete. The biggest thing is, he has a feel for the game. He's got good vision. The true test will be returning punts."

Lewis shrugs at the notion of having some of the NFL's best athletes barreling down the field, drawing a bead on him as he waits for the ball.

"You've got to stay focused and make sure you catch the ball," he said. "After you catch it, that's when the fun starts."

Ravens receivers coach Mike Sheppard thinks Lewis could have lots of fun at the expense of NFL secondaries. Sheppard was especially impressed by Lewis' ability at Maryland to make difficult catches, and his penchant for turning routine plays into big gains. Over his four years with the Terps, Lewis averaged 15.2 yards per reception.

"Our biggest job on offense right now is to get him [Lewis] away from Scott O'Brien long enough to keep him away from the special teams," Sheppard said.

"Hopefully, he's going to help us in both areas. He's a great kid with outstanding quicks, and he picks things up quickly. The ability to learn different coverages in the NFL will be the key. If he knows what to do, the how-to-do is the instinctive part."

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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