J. Lewis back on field but not in backfield yet

In return, Raven limited to conditioning workout

August 10, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Jamal Lewis sprinted several times along the back of the end zone yesterday, another pivotal step in his attempt to distance himself from his federal drug conspiracy sentence.

A week removed from his release from an Atlanta halfway house, the Ravens running back returned to the practice field for the first time since the end of last season, professing fresh legs and a fresh start.

"It's been hanging over my head for the last five seasons," said Lewis, who pleaded guilty in October to using a cell phone to try to set up a cocaine deal in 2000. "It's just a great weight off my back so I can move forward. If I could accomplish what I did over the last five years under the circumstances, hopefully there are better years to come.

"It's like starting brand new right now."

The Ravens will assimilate Lewis back slowly into football after an offseason that included four months in federal prison, two months in a halfway house and surgery on his ankle.

Lewis, who was limited to a conditioning workout yesterday, could have some carries in contact drills today. The earliest he would play in the preseason would be the second game, Aug. 20 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The bigger challenge might be keeping Lewis from coming back too fast.

"Without any question, we got a guy that's on a mission," running backs coach Matt Simon said. "He's out to prove that [he] hasn't done yet what he wants to do. In his mind, it's like, `Whatever the numbers have been, you ain't seen the best of Jamal yet.'"

The product of Lewis' determination is his current physical shape.

He ran without favoring his surgically repaired right ankle and weighed in at 240 pounds, which is 5 pounds lighter than what he usually carries into the season.

"I'm back doing what I like to do, doing what I do best," Lewis said. "I'm not a bad person. It's just me moving forward. I'm not looking back on the past and the things I just went through. My next step is really just prove people wrong, the people that doubt me and think I'm not in the shape I'm supposed to be."

As Lewis moves forward, the Ravens don't want him to lose sight of that strict, regimented lifestyle from this offseason.

His typical day at the minimum-security federal work camp began at 4:30 a.m. when the lights came on and included a 7 1/2 -hour shift in the prison tool shop where he distributed and hauled equipment for mechanics.

When he transferred to the halfway house, he woke up at 7 a.m. and worked out in a gym up to 12 hours a day.

"In my case, it was just the last part of my incarceration. They let me get in shape and get ready for the season," Lewis said. "Basically you just go to work, and my job was to go work out and get ready for my job here."

The Ravens foresee Lewis keeping that same discipline, which will lead to him coming early to practice as well as staying late.

"I think Jamal was always a good worker," Simon said. "But I think this might have made him a better worker. I think it's evident by the kind of shape he is now."

Another lesson learned by the 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year was to appreciate his freedom.

"You learn to value every day what you have," Lewis said. "Driving a car, eating good food. When you're out here on the street, you don't think about those things."

In reflecting upon the past year, Lewis changed his tone toward the Atlanta prosecutors.

A month ago, he expressed no grudges, saying, "I don't think I'm a victim." But there was more bitterness directed toward them yesterday for waiting nearly five years to bring charges against him.

"It was just a case of, I was a high profile guy and somebody just wanted to pull on me a little bit," Lewis said. "The statute of limitations was coming up, it was the brink of a great season, things were looking up, so hey, you just put it together."

Lewis' sentence is nearly complete. He still has to complete about 500 hours of community service in Atlanta after this season.

"This is kind of a slight intermission, he said. "Just a breaking point."

If there ever was a breaking point, it came last season.

His legal trouble along with his ankle injury limited him to career-low 1,006 yards, less than half what he totaled in 2003 when he won the NFL rushing title.

Now, with closure, Lewis is looking for redemption.

"I can only imagine how he must feel without that shadow, without that burden hanging over him," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Just look in his eyes. I've never seen him more vibrant. There's more sparkle in his eyes, more energy."

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