With drive, purpose, R. Lewis lifts Ravens

Exhaustive workouts pay off now for linebacker

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens Vs. Giants

January 22, 2001|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN COLUMNIST

Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis goes into the training room only to get his ankles taped. Other than that, team trainer Bill Tessendorf rarely sees him.

It's almost inconceivable that the NFL's most dominating defensive force and one of the league's top tacklers doesn't have any injuries. There are no strained ligaments in his hands or fingers or pulled muscles in his upper or lower body.

Tendinitis? Arthritis? Nothing.

It's absurd.

"There is that old saying that when you play that aggressively you don't get hurt," Tessendorf said. "Except for the elbow injury two years ago, he doesn't get hurt a lot. He is not the type of guy to hang around the training room. I think he has worked harder in his career [this year] than he ever has."

During the past three playoff games, the rest of the league has been trying to find the phone booth where Lewis changes. He had an outstanding regular season, leading the team in tackles with 189, but Lewis is playing at a level far above the numbers.

Driven by being accused of two murders nearly a year ago at the Super Bowl in Atlanta (Lewis was later convicted of an obstruction of justice charge through a plea bargaining arrangement), he put himself through a rigorous training regimen that is paying off during the postseason.

"We take the field with energy and excitement," Ravens head coach Brian Billick said about his team's defense. "We are fundamentally sound, but there is also that X-factor that takes you over the edge, and that's what Ray Lewis brings to the game. He brings that intensity and that desire that is going to get us over that last hurdle."

Routine change

Lewis changed his training routine during the off-season, partly because he wanted to and also out of necessity. During the trial in May, he trained twice a day with tight end Shannon Sharpe, who resides in Atlanta. Lewis took out his frustrations in the weight room, and didn't think about the daily trial proceedings until he was being driven to the courtroom.

Before the trial each morning, Sharpe and Lewis would run. A typical hard day might include 12 200-yard sprints, always under 27 seconds on each one. An easy day might include 16 100-yard sprints.

In the evenings, Sharpe and Lewis lifted weights together. Sharpe focuses more on adding bulk, strength and power. Lewis reported to training camp at 260 pounds, 15 more than usual, but all muscle.

"The thing with Shannon was a given because I was there in Atlanta," Lewis said. "But once I left the courtroom, Shannon would be downstairs in the car waiting. I would go home, take off my suit, put on shorts, and that's how I was breezing through the whole process."

After the trial, Lewis brought a personal trainer to his home in Owings Mills to work with him on more explosive movements, agility and flexibility. He would kick box for several hours and run a torturous hill close to his home for endurance.

"I did so many things. It was incredible, brutal stuff," Lewis said. "If you've never kick boxed or thrown punches for minutes at a time, it's amazing how it can drain your body. I broke my body down in so many ways because I had something to prove. I wanted to be strong, then stronger. I wanted to be fast and then faster. When I was finished, I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to know that I had exhausted myself completely.

"Now everything has just come together," Lewis said. "Knock on wood because I haven't had a serious injury yet."

More film study

When he reported to training camp, Lewis told his coaches that he wanted to learn the game through the eyes of a coach. He began to study more film, and he now watches about three hours of film per night after the game plan has been installed.

The hard training hasn't stopped. He lifts at least twice a week with Sharpe. Mondays are the toughest days because Lewis does upper body training, which includes three sets of bench pressing with 15 reps at 275 pounds, 12 at 300 and 10 at 315.

He does little legwork during the regular season.

"I never stop working my upper body and my abs," Lewis said. "I run too much to have my legs burn out on me. I don't want them getting too heavy. Speed is my big asset, and I try to stay focused on all things that are crucial to me on the field."

Lewis has never lost that focus through the trial, regular season and into the playoffs. There is only one game left - Super Bowl XXXV against the New York Giants on Sunday.

"You can't let things bother you," Lewis said. "I've had fans screaming at me that I should be in jail, or this and that. I would respect a fan who would say, `You're not as good as they say you are,' or `aren't as good as you used to be,' because they are real fans. The other people who hurl insults at me aren't fans, just jerks.

"Through this entire year, I've just tried to maintain my concentration on the field, and it has turned out pretty well," Lewis said. "There is only one more challenge left."

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