Trial might trim J. Lewis' season

Sun Staff

If Ravens','resizable=yes,width=585,height=310,status=no,location=no,toolbar=no,scrollbars=no'); return false;">Jamal Lewis stands trial on federal drug conspiracy charges during the regular season, the Ravens are prepared to play without the All-Pro running back during that time.

Team officials had considered creating a schedule similar to the one the Lakers used with guard Kobe Bryant, who shuttled between Los Angeles and Eagle, Colo., for his sexual assault case.

But coach Brian Billick said yesterday that plan can't feasibly work with Lewis despite the Ravens playing 15 of their 16 games on Sundays. Lewis' trial is not expected to take longer than two weeks, his lawyer said.

"This is not pro basketball," Billick said. "As I've said many times, if you weren't required to put the preparation during the week to be able to play this game on a Sunday, we wouldn't do it. We would let the guys rest, watch a bunch of film and just show up on Sunday. But there's a certain rhythm and certain mechanics that you have to go through [in practice] over the course of a week. If he were to miss that, it probably would be imprudent for him to play."

Donald Samuel, Lewis' lawyer, said last week that the case, which once seemed headed to trial next month, now appears likely to slide into the Ravens' regular season or beyond. There will be a request made to delay the trial until after the season, Samuel said.

The Ravens' regular season begins Sept. 12 and ends Jan. 2. Players report to training camp Thursday.

If his trial occurs during the season, Ravens officials said his absence would be treated like an injury.

"It would be the same as if the trainer came in and said Jamal has pulled whatever and it's going to be a week, two weeks or three weeks before he comes back," Billick said.

Lewis, 24, was charged with conspiring to possess, with the intent to distribute, 5 kilograms of cocaine and using a cell phone in the commission of that act. The charges stem from an incident that took place in the summer of 2000, before his rookie season.

Lewis rushed for the second-most yards in league history last season (2,066) and was named the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year. If he can't play, his role would be filled by Musa Smith and Chester Taylor, who have combined for 429 career rushing yards.

The Ravens are 31-20 (.608 winning percentage) when Lewis starts.

They went 11-7 (.611) when he went down with a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire 2001 season.

"We're prepared whether it's during training camp or during the regular season," Billick said. "We have to honor the system. It's unfortunate that it has not been more definitive.

"I certainly understand and respect the court systems and the difficulties they have in putting these things together sometimes. But by the same token, there is a human element here that you hope they can respect. But he seems to be handling it well."

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