Running game forges forward in first outing

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

J. Lewis, M. Smith take big steps toward dispelling injury doubts

Notebook

August 12, 2006|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

Steve McNair's 6-yard touchdown scamper notwithstanding, perhaps the most positive sign from the Ravens' 17-16 preseason loss to the New York Giants last night was the revival of their running game.

Any questions about Jamal Lewis' recovery from a dreadful 2005 season were answered by a 5-yard gain up the middle on the Ravens' first offensive play.

Any reservations about Musa Smith's health after an injury-hampered three-year stint were wiped away when he compiled 41 yards on his first two carries, including a 37-yard run down the right sideline.

All in all, the performances suggested - for the moment anyway - that the Ravens may have put last season's 24th-ranked offense and 21st-ranked rushing offense under an extreme makeover.

"We seem more balanced out there," said Lewis, who finished with 34 yards on six carries. "We moved the ball well and had a good drive. That was huge for us."

The offense mixed the run and pass on its first drive, calling six rushes and six passes - one of which became McNair's touchdown scramble. Much of that could be traced to the presence of McNair, who forced the Giants to abandon an eight- or nine-man defensive front in the box.

Lewis, who has been bothered by a strained hip flexor, was particularly effective as he cut back into gaps and plowed over defenders.

"He obviously was very physical tonight," coach Brian Billick said. "We just have to continue to progress. The soreness that he has is moving down his leg and eventually out. So he's battling that a little bit, but he ran with some real authority tonight, and that's good to see."

Smith was just as effective albeit against New York's second-team defense. On the offense's single largest gain of the night, Smith took the handoff from quarterback Kyle Boller at the 38-yard line, slipped toward the middle before bouncing to his right, and was forced out at the Giants' 25.

"The line, they had some great blocks," said Smith. "In camp, we've been stressing the run game, and we wanted to come out here and establish that. Jamal set it off, and I just followed him."

Perhaps the only disappointment was rookie P.J. Daniels' inability to protect the football.

The fourth-round pick fumbled when Giants linebacker Gerris Wilkinson hit Daniels late in the third quarter, and defensive tackle Damane Duckett jumped on the mistake.

Daniels lost the ball again early in the fourth quarter, but fullback Ovie Mughelli recovered.

"This is not what I do," said Daniels, who took responsibility for the miscues. "I don't fumble, but I get out here and fumble two. But like the veterans said, it's another day, another opportunity. I'll learn from it and build from that."

R. Lewis, Rolle missing

In a pair of surprise moves, the Ravens did not play linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Samari Rolle, while the Giants kept running back Tiki Barber and defensive end Michael Strahan on the sidelines.

Lewis' absence was not caused by an injury, but Rolle did not suit up due to a heel injury.

Nothing but air

Rookie punter Sam Koch's cause took a blow last night when he whiffed on a tackle attempt of returner Michael Jennings, who went 57 yards for a touchdown.

Koch's attempt was the fifth tackle Jennings evaded during his run, which was aided by Koch's short punt from the Ravens' 18. Koch finished with a 33.3-yard average on three punts.

Leo Araguz had a less stressful time as he averaged 36 yards a punt and kicked one inside the Giants' 20.

Demps returns

Rookie Dawan Landry started at strong safety alongside Ed Reed, but Gerome Sapp also played with the first team.

Their predecessor, Will Demps, returned to Baltimore for the first time since leaving the Ravens during the offseason, but Demps said he had already moved on.

"It's bittersweet, but after you get that first hit in, it's just another football game, which is played between the white lines," Demps said. "It's really just football."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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