Friend to foe

J. Lewis carrying `sour taste' into reunion with Ravens

September 27, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

In his seven-year career with the Ravens, Jamal Lewis won a Super Bowl, set the league's single-game rushing record and earned the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year award.

Yet as the much-anticipated reunion with his former teammates approaches, Lewis couldn't sound more emotionally detached.

Now the featured running back for the Cleveland Browns, Lewis spoke yesterday about how much he had wanted to leave the Ravens and how the change in offensive philosophy left a "sour taste" in his mouth.

The one memory he will carry into Sunday's game is how to attack the Ravens' defense.

"It's not that I know the scheme; [it's that] I know the personnel and the players," Lewis said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "I know what they do best and what they don't do best. I think that gives me a little bit of an edge."

The biggest matchup will be Jamal Lewis against Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, one of his closest friends on his former team.

Ray Lewis initially talked about how the media and fans were blowing this meeting out of proportion, but his tone changed after one reporter passed on Jamal Lewis' comments about knowing the weaknesses of the Ravens' defense.

"I do know this: If he touches the football, it's going to be more than one person hitting him. Jamal knows there are no weaknesses," Ray Lewis said. "You can pretend there's a weakness if you want to run at our corners and our secondary. Jamal knows who he has to deal with, so if there's a weakness, tell him to come and find it. We'll be waiting for him Sunday when we get there."

Jamal Lewis said he doesn't view this game as a platform to prove anything to the Ravens.

But some think otherwise, including Browns coach Romeo Crennel.

"He kind of felt like he was on the outs down there and now he definitely has something to prove," Crennel said. "So he got in great shape. He reported to training camp and had a burst. So he's showing some of the same type of ability that he did early in his career.

"Deep down, I think he would like to have a career-type game."

The Ravens cut Jamal Lewis on Feb. 28 before they had to give him a $5 million roster bonus. Seven days later, he signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Browns after passing on the Ravens' one-year, $2 million offer.

"I really didn't want to come back, honestly," Jamal Lewis said. "It was more of a business move. You could tell that I didn't fit into that scheme anymore because of what [coach Brian] Billick wanted to do and the offense he wanted to run."

He said he doesn't hold a grudge against Billick, although their relationship had eroded over the years. In his last years with the Ravens, Lewis constantly complained about his lack of carries.

"I have nothing against him," Lewis said. "But it kind of leaves a sour taste in your mouth a little bit when you don't really fit into this offensive scheme anymore and you're trying to do something else."

Asked when exactly his time with the Ravens soured, Lewis said: "It wasn't this past year; it was the year before [2005]. I knew what kind of direction Billick was trying to go with the offense and I didn't fit that scheme. It was the year before when I was really ready to leave."

Picked fifth overall in the 2000 NFL draft, Lewis rushed for 7,801 yards for the Ravens and scored 45 touchdowns.

The pinnacle of his career came in 2003, when he gained 2,066 yards, the second-highest season total in NFL history. He was named the league's Offensive Player of the Year and was named to his only Pro Bowl.

During the 2000 Super Bowl season, Lewis carried a lethargic offense in the stretch run. In the final two months of the season, he averaged 119 yards rushing and accounted for nearly half the team's offensive production.

But there were tough times for him, too.

In training camp before the 2001 season, he suffered a season-ending knee injury, which severely hurt the Ravens' chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions.

Then, in October 2004, Lewis pleaded guilty to using a cell phone to try to set up a cocaine deal four years earlier. He served a four-month term in federal prison and spent two months in a halfway house.

In his last two seasons with the Ravens, Lewis was not the same running back, averaging less than 4 yards a carry. He was criticized for hesitating when reaching the line of scrimmage and lacking breakaway speed.

"We made an organizational decision of what's available, what was the money and who else was out there," Billick said. "Willis McGahee came to the market and we felt like that was something worth pursuing and we did and we're thrilled to have Willis."

Like Lewis, Billick didn't show much sentiment, even though the Ravens parted with their all-time leading rusher on less than ideal terms.

"It's kind of standard operating procedure," Billick said. "Anytime someone leaves someplace, I don't know if that's an easy thing to do. I certainly understand the anxiety of it."

One player who understands what Jamal Lewis will go through is receiver Derrick Mason.

It was two seasons ago when Mason played against the Tennessee Titans after playing for that team for eight years.

"You want to make a statement in that game," Mason said. "I know Jamal is looking at this game as one of those games where I have to carry the offensive side of the ball and carry them on my back and do something special in this game to really show up the other guys on the field."

Noticing Ray Lewis was standing behind him, Mason added: "As long as [Jamal Lewis] doesn't score a touchdown and doesn't run over Ray, we'll be all right."

Jamal Lewis said he won't talk with any of the Ravens this week.

And come Sunday, there won't be any lingering connection between him and the Ravens.

"I think a lot of people draw up more than it is. It's football," Ray Lewis said. "The bottom line is he's not a Raven anymore. He's a Brown. When the ball is snapped, he's got to be hit."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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