Lewis tackles job of making Ravens a hit

Veteran wants to prove prognosticators wrong about youthful team

`I'm going to make the way'

Source: Team offers him record signing bonus

July 26, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

A flurry of question marks surround the Ravens as they reported to training camp yesterday, from their two highest draft picks holding out to a roster packed with unknown talent.

Still, with Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe gone, there remains one certainty: This is Ray Lewis' team now.

Wide-eyed faces arrived by the droves to McDaniel College, not knowing which direction to head to their room but absolutely sure of whom to follow. And Lewis, the Ravens' magnetic inside linebacker, is attacking this year's leadership role like a helmet-to-helmet collision with Titans running back Eddie George, becoming the first player to report yesterday with his 10 a.m. arrival.

"I'm not afraid of putting a team on my back," said Lewis, whose Ravens have been picked to finish last in the AFC North by most publications. "What truly motivates me now is to hear everybody say that I can't take my team back to the playoffs, or that in two or three years my team can't be back in the Super Bowl. If I can take this team to the playoffs and win, I can be compared to Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali.

"That's my challenge. My guys are going to be looking for guidance. I'm not going to show them the way, I'm going to make the way for them."

His young teammates - minus unsigned picks safety Ed Reed and defensive end Anthony Weaver - are eager to follow Lewis.

"We're going to look at Ray as the leader and he knows the pressure that he's going to have on him," said cornerback Gary Baxter, a first-year starter. "He knows how to lead this team. There are going to be times when I'm out there on the defense and I'm going to look at him and say, 'OK, Ray, what do we do now?' "

Will that increased role mean an increased paycheck?

A league source indicated yesterday there's been a long-term deal discussed that would give Lewis an NFL-record signing bonus of $21 to $22 million, but Ravens officials and Lewis' agent said there had been no new progress. Lewis currently has two years remaining on his contract.

"Do I totally agree with the way things went down? No. I can voice that with a strong confidence," Lewis said. "For one reason only: I bust my butt for this organization and expect them to pay me the same way. Is there any bad blood? No. I don't let people disappoint me in that way. Is there a lack of respect? Somewhat."

Lewis, though, refuses to bring his business inside the huddle.

His task now is to rally seven new starters to maintain the Ravens' standard of excellence on defense. Lewis has been the premier player on a defense that has been ranked No. 2 for three straight years and he doesn't see the anonymity of his teammates as a stumbling block.

"My message is simple: If you lead a bunch of young lions to a feast, they'll follow you," Lewis said. "I'm not asking for them to be right all the time. I'm asking them to put as much effort as the guy beside you. That's the way it worked on our Super Bowl team and that's the way it's going to work now.

"Togetherness is something special. Go look at the Pittsburgh defense. No disrespect, but I can honestly only name one player from that defense: Jason Gildon. New England is the same way. I can only name you three players and they won the Super Bowl. See what I mean?"

In Lewis' eyes, the season boils down to him carrying this team.

"Last minicamp, the biggest thing I saw was when I responded, they responded," Lewis said. "I'm not going to lead you down a dark path. I'm going to lead you to the prize."

NOTES: The Ravens reduced the number of unsigned draft picks to two yesterday, signing receiver Javin Hunter to a three-year deal. He attended yesterday's meeting, leaving Reed and Weaver as the only no-shows. Financial terms weren't disclosed on Hunter's contract, but it is believed that agent Peter Schaffer got more than the slotted amount. ... Reed is the Ravens' third first-round pick to hold out in five years. The Ravens remained active, exchanging proposals with both Reed's and Weaver's agents. But Reed, who had been optimistic all week, struck a different tone yesterday. "I'm prepared for the worst because I've always prepared for the worst," said Reed, who continues to study his notes from past minicamps. "But I'm prepared for when I do come to camp." ... The Ravens have put defensive end Michael McCrary (knee) and linebacker Peter Boulware (ankle scoped a month ago) on the physically unable to perform list. It's a precautionary measure that keeps the two veterans from practicing and opens two roster spots for additional rookie free agents. Neither is expected to stay on the list for an extended period.

Camp update

Thumbs up: Ray Lewis was the first player to report to camp, clocking in at 10 a.m.

Thumbs down: The Ravens began camp with two holdouts, as their top two picks - safety Ed Reed and defensive end Anthony Weaver - remain unsigned.

Quotable: "More than what you're probably predicting." Ravens coach Brian Billick when a reporter asked him how many games his team will win this season.

Today's schedule: Full non-contact practices 8:45 a.m.-11 a.m. and 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

Countdown to season opener: 44 days.

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