It's time to give `horse' J. Lewis free rein to gallops

September 18, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

AFTER ALL WAS said and done - and, as usual, there was lots said and done - there wasn't much about the Ravens' quarterback situation for Brian Billick to clarify. Kyle Boller was still hurt, Anthony Wright was still going to play as long as Boller was hurt, and whenever Boller is healthy again ... that's a topic to clarify another day.

Today is what matters. Wright is going to start in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. Ideally, his line will block for him. If all goes as planned, his receivers will catch his passes, particularly the ones that land in their hands. Hopefully, more will land in their hands than in the hands of the Titans' defenders.

And in a perfect world, one Raven will have his hands on the ball enough to make all the aforementioned issues irrelevant. That's Jamal Lewis. On a team where nothing comes easy for any quarterback, and seemingly no quarterback can make things easy for the team, Lewis can, has and will make things easier for everybody.

Never has there been a better time to prove that.

If Billick had only saved a few pointed, direct, fiery words for that sentiment. Something along the lines of: "Jamal Lewis is our featured back. He's our biggest offensive weapon. Period. He's going to dictate what we do and how we do it, until proven otherwise. If that happens, then we'll figure something else out. But if I gave the impression that anyone else mattered in this offense as much as he does, that was not my intent."

He could slip in a word or two about Chester Taylor, too, since he's part of this scenario. But you get the point.

Whether he says it or not, though, Billick knows this. He's got to. A balanced offense is a lovely concept, but the kind of balance that would work best for this team at this stage is Lewis keeping his balance while rumbling through the Titans' secondary on about his 30th carry of the day.

Lewis put it even more eloquently last week: "Just let the horse run. Let me go."

That's what Ravens followers were led to believe could happen a lot this year, because the troubles that dogged Lewis all last year were behind him, from legal to physical. Lewis' reply came from a question about whether Billick was bringing him around slowly, and Lewis did say that he understood why the coach would do that.

Both can say all they want about the benefits of Lewis getting some serious contact for a couple of series in the preseason finale, but in reality, the post-surgical ankle took awhile to fully heal, and might not have yet.

But what a great time to find out. Lewis sure wants the ball, not that he ever doesn't want it. He wanted it late last season when the ankle was already broken. He wants it now even though he has a fractured finger.

And even though he was too circumspect to say so, you know he wants it against a Titans defense that last week made Willie Parker look like Jim Thorpe. The Steelers' rookie was a third-stringer until injuries hit and didn't even start in college. So imagine what a hungry back two seasons removed from a 2,000-yard year - and with a new contract on his mind - might do.

Speaking of the Steelers, their golden-child quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, added to his growing fame by hanging up a perfect passer rating for that game. Not that it's easy to do under any circumstances, but it's easier when you throw only 11 times. Billick might crave that 50-50 run-pass ratio, and Wright might be eager to prove he can do things passing that Boller couldn't, but if the Ravens get out of The Coliseum with 11 pass attempts, 150 yards rushing and their first win of the season, they'll be able to live with themselves.

It could happen - if they let the horse go.

The horse was in the barn way too much Sunday night against the Colts. Granted, Lewis started strong with a big first quarter, then got bogged down badly in the second as the Ravens generated minus-3 rushing yards and one first down. Penalties dragged the Ravens down. Dropped balls didn't help. The line blocked worse, on runs and passes, as the game wore on.

But still, in a game that was scoreless until the final seconds of the first half and still just 3-0 Colts for a while in the third quarter, Lewis carried only 16 times total. The touches were dwindling long before the game got out of reach, before Boller went down, before Wright started cranking.

The number of touches - and that includes getting Lewis into the passing game - is going to go up anyway this season; it has to. If his health isn't holding him back, might as well get those touches on the rise today. Might as well get him, and Taylor, and the line in a rhythm. Might as well find out if what Parker did against the gutted Titans defense was beginner's luck. Might as well get Wright some eight- and nine-man fronts to test himself against.

Might as well let everybody, as Lewis put it, "see the big boy go this weekend."

Big boy, horse, whatever. It's time to get him going.


Thirty NBA players pledged at least $10,000 each in donations at last weekend's Hurricane Katrina relief game. A weeping Stephon Marbury gave half a million on his own. One of the first celebs to go to the stricken area to help was Shaquille O'Neal. Now, if they'd only commit to playing for the Olympic team, NBA players might be considered "patriotic."

Speaking of Shaq, you have to think that part of his motivation to become a policeman is having a chance to arrest Kobe, right?

American tennis is better than it has been in a long time, but it all might be for naught unless Roger Federer defects and seeks asylum in the next five years.

The NHL had almost persuaded the fans to come back. Then in the span of about a week, all the good players retired. Oh, well.

Lance Armstrong now says he won't try for an eighth Tour de France win because he expects to be harassed too much along the way. What's the matter, Lance, too proud for earplugs?

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