J. Lewis on happier ground with this Ravens offense

August 14, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

In case you might have forgotten, Jamal Lewis was not particularly happy last season, about much of anything. That Jamal Lewis was nowhere to be seen after the Ravens' preseason opener Friday night.

It was one of the abundant encouraging signs about that game against the New York Giants - players grinning, joking, downright gushing about how Steve McNair marched the first-team offense downfield for that touchdown and sent the fans' anticipation toward dizzying heights.

Lewis wasn't gushing - in fact, he came off as very matter-of-fact about having gained 34 yards on his six first-quarter carries before calling it a night - but he did sound like a man who likes what's happening around him and where he fits into it. So much so, in fact, that it's probably just a matter of time before the Jamal of last season is no more, on the field and in front of the cameras and microphones.

Not that we media types won't miss that other Jamal a little; after all, by the middle of last season, he was the Ravens' weekly go-to sound bite and guaranteed quote. Looks like we'll have to feed off something else this season besides his talk of not running as hard as he could, of being misled by the front office, of getting too much work or too little, of having a leash around his neck, of not speaking to Brian Billick.

On the other hand, the Ravens' faithful won't miss the sub-1,000-yard season, the 3.4 yards-per-carry average, or what everyone eventually started describing as his "tiptoeing" with the ball. There wasn't even a hint of that Friday. Billick described Lewis' approach as "physical," and that might be putting it mildly.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin called his defense "soft" afterward, and refused to take it back a day later after watching film. It's been a while since Lewis made an opposing coach call out his own players.

Right now, Lewis has lots of reasons to be happy, with what he sees and what he's doing.

What he sees is offensive balance. What he sees is a legitimate threat from the passing game. What he sees is defenders somewhere other than jammed up at the line waiting to beat on him the way he's been beaten on for six years.

What he sees is what he said he has been promised every season, none more than last season.

"Very much. It's like I told one of the coaches the other day, I like what's going on, I like what we're doing," Lewis said after the game. "The things that we said to each other sometimes as players - `Why don't we do this, why don't we do that' - we're doing that now. So you can see progress. You can see progress that we've been missing in the last few years, so that's a step in the right direction."

The unfulfilled promise of making the offense more than one-dimensional was one of his pet peeves from last season. Of course, much of the reason it didn't work last year was resolved this year, and that resolution -McNair - also alluded to the possibilities Lewis envisions.

"Our passing game is going to help the running game and vice versa," McNair said. "When you have things like that working, you can do so many more things offensively, especially with Jamal in the backfield. Who do you stop - do you stop the passing game or do you stop the running game? Teams cannot prepare for the both of us."

McNair sounds like a man who wouldn't mind some version of his old running partner, Eddie George, on his side. Lewis wouldn't mind the favor being returned. He's been waiting, and having it now has changed his tune.

"When I first came back here [for this season], I'm like, `Oh, no, it's the same old stuff again,'" he said. "But after looking at the schemes, looking at the practices, and looking at the way the run game is, I said, `OK, now I see a difference in the way we're doing things.' That's only positive; guys like it, and guys are going to make it work."

Now, it's not as if all the questions raised last season about Lewis have all evaporated in the giddiness over that one perfect preseason possession. He's still not at full strength because of leg woes, even though you couldn't tell from the purpose with which he ran Friday. It's hard to believe he won't be playing with another big contract in mind, since the one he signed in the offseason is guaranteed for just one year.

Lewis also will have Mike Anderson and Musa Smith stating their case for carries eventually, if the opener was any indication.

Still, the preseason began with the Ravens' lead running back, the horse they've ridden for so long, in a positive frame of mind.

The Ravens will take that, even if it means the media have to take fewer colorful Lewis quotes in return.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Ravens data

Next preseason game Eagles@Ravens, Thursday, 8 p.m.

Training camp Through Saturday, McDaniel College, Westminster Today: 8:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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