Je. Lewis not yet at full speed

Ravens' return man gradually recovering from hamstring injury

October 20, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Jermaine Lewis was looking for that final gear, the one that usually propels the Ravens' return man past flailing defenders and into wide-open space with the end zone in sight.

Instead, he was forced out of bounds after a 37-yard return by the Green Bay Packers' Rondell Mealey in the Ravens' 31-23 loss Sunday.

"I have most of my gears, but I really need that acceleration one, that last one," Lewis said. "Once I get that, I think I'll be in good shape."

Lewis is getting healthier with every passing week after injuring his hamstring in practice about a month ago before the Cincinnati game. He was inactive against the Bengals, but Lewis returned punts and kickoffs at less than 100 percent against Denver, Tennessee and Green Bay.

Lewis had a season-high 152 total return yards against the Packers. His 37-yarder in the third quarter to the Packers' 34 was a yard more than Josh Bidwell's punt itself and set up a field goal by Matt Stover that cut the Ravens' deficit to seven.

In the first quarter, Lewis had a 21-yard return after being pinned back to the Ravens' 10-yard line.

"I was excited about the return by Jermaine," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Jermaine looks like he's got that step back, which is good. I think he's past that little bit of tweak he had, and he's excited about that."

Not completely past it, though, according to Lewis. Once that happens, he undoubtedly will improve on his 13.5 yard punt-return average, fourth in the AFC, and 19.5 kickoff-return average, which has him in the bottom half of returners in the conference.

The injury seems to hinder Lewis the most on kickoffs. This is the first season since 1997 Lewis has returned kickoffs full time. His current average is about 2 yards under his career average and about 10 yards behind the Denver Broncos' Kevin Kasper, who leads the AFC.

Returning punts comes easier for Lewis. Last year, he led the NFL with a 16.1 punt-return average and returned two for touchdowns.

If he had been 100 percent against the Packers, he said perhaps one of those two long punt returns could have ended up in the end zone.

"I feel like it is coming, but it is not all there yet," Lewis said. "It's still at about 85 percent.

"Every week I'm getting better. If I can continue to get treatment, things will come out positive."

Running it up?

Even though he watched the game from home because of his broken thumb, Browns quarterback Tim Couch said he thought the Ravens ran up the score in their 44-7 win over Cleveland in their last meeting.

"I think they were throwing some passes there pretty late in the game when I think the game had definitely already been decided," Couch said. "So I think they may have been running it up a little bit."

But Couch may just be running his mouth on this point. In the second half, the Ravens ran the ball 28 times and passed it eight, which isn't exactly showing up the opposition.

Et cetera

Defensive end Rob Burnett (hand) and tight end Todd Heap (ankle), both listed as questionable, practiced yesterday and are expected to play tomorrow. The only players ruled out are receiver Patrick Johnson (clavicle), offensive tackle Leon Searcy (arm) and offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo (knee). ... Dennis Northcutt will move into the Browns' starting lineup at wide receiver opposite Kevin Johnson with rookie Quincy Morgan relegated to a backup spot.

Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cleveland Browns

Site: Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 7 1/2

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