It's back to football for Lewis

Trial behind him, LB welcomed back at Ravens practice

`I felt comfortable'

Siragusa's arrival means all on hand

June 13, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

As reunions go, the return of Ray Lewis to the Ravens yesterday was short on ceremony but strong on sentiment.

Less than a week removed from a trial on charges of double murder, the Pro Bowl linebacker received red roses from an admirer, bouquets of appreciation from his teammates, and trash talk from his quarterback during the first day of minicamp.

"I've been talking trash since I saw him Friday night," said quarterback Tony Banks. "[It was] to let him know the defense needs him, because I've been dicing them up a bit."

For the first time since last January's season finale in New England, the Ravens' No. 2-ranked defense was together again. Lewis, exonerated of murder and assault charges in a plea agreement in Atlanta last week, was back in his customary position at middle linebacker. Even Tony Siragusa, embroiled in a contract dispute with the team, was back at defensive tackle.

The only one missing from action was outside linebacker Peter Boulware, who is still rehabilitating his surgically repaired right shoulder. Boulware nevertheless was present for the opening of the voluntary veterans camp.

"It was almost like he wasn't ever gone," Boulware said of Lewis' absence, which spanned three off-season camps and 13 practices. "Everyone was acting normal. But you also could feel that extra bit of excitement, knowing that he was one of the last pieces of the puzzle to get back together."

With assembled TV crews and photographers aimed at the back door of the team's training facility in Owings Mills, Lewis caught all off-guard when he entered the practice field from a side entrance at 9:58 a.m. There was no intent to avoid the media masses, though.

"That's the way we always come out," said linebacker Jamie Sharper, who walked out with Lewis, Boulware and Brad Jackson. "It's a shorter distance, actually."

Lewis, looking heavier than his listed playing weight of 240 pounds, showed no ill effects of his long ordeal in the sultry, 90-degree temperatures. When it was over, he met the media throng for about 50 seconds and answered seven questions with an economy of words.

"It felt good," said Lewis, who spoke to reporters before his two former co-defendants were acquitted of all charges in Atlanta yesterday afternoon. "After 15 years, you just don't lose it. I felt comfortable out there today."

Asked if he had any doubts this day would arrive, Lewis said, "It's a moment I knew was coming."

Marvin Lewis, the Ravens' defensive coordinator, held the same steely conviction. Did he ever entertain the possibility that he'd have to play without the NFL's best middle linebacker?

"No, I didn't," the coordinator said. "I was probably foolhardy. I think people thought I was crazy, particularly people on other teams. I would tell them, `Everything is going to be fine.'

"Ray doesn't fight. I know Ray doesn't fight. I've never seen him involved in that kind of thing, or where he would gravitate to that."

Ray Lewis' presence was a definite pick-me-up, and not just for morale purposes, either.

"It does a lot for us," said safety Rod Woodson. "We changed some things in the defense, and this lets everybody, especially the No. 1 [defensive] team, work with Ray within those changes, and we all get a better feel for it now. Everybody's happy to have him here and happy to see him be out of the situation he was in."

Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens' Pro Bowl offensive tackle, chuckled when asked if Lewis displayed a new fire.

"If you see a new fire, that'd be amazing," Ogden said. "The man already gets 200 tackles a year. New fire? I don't know what [more] you want."

Now that Lewis is back, the Ravens will attempt to restructure his four-year, $26 million contract to reduce an unwieldy $6.5 million salary cap number in 2000. It is the highest cap number on the team, topping Ogden's $5.321 million cap hit.

Siragusa, meanwhile, participated in group drills, but was held out of team drills as a precautionary measure, Marvin Lewis said. Lional Dalton took Siragusa's spot with the first unit.

Siragusa missed the team's mandatory minicamp in April, for which he was fined $2,000. He is attempting to renegotiate the final year of his four-year contract, worth $1.5 million.

"When Goose hits the field, he goes to work," Marvin Lewis said. "I thought he carried that attitude out there today."

Coach Brian Billick said Siragusa was over his playing weight of 330, but declined to say by how much.

"He has a ways to go," Billick said of Siragusa's conditioning. He's not in as good shape as he was last year. He knows that, and we'll see if we can't get him there by the time training camp starts [July 23]."

Siragusa declined to comment.

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