The 2000 season will be a crucial one for Ravens receiver Jermaine Lewis.
After catching 41 passes for 784 yards and six touchdowns in 1998 and earning Pro Bowl honors as a punt returner with a 12.7-yard average including two for touchdowns, Lewis struggled through a difficult 1999 season, the first under head coach Brian Billick.
Last season, Lewis had only 25 catches for 281 yards and averaged only 7.9 yards per punt return. The Ravens never found a key role for him in the offense. Lewis would like to change that in the coming season, but it will be a big challenge.
The team drafted Florida receiver Travis Taylor with the No. 10 overall selection two weeks ago, and the Ravens return both Qadry Ismail and Patrick Johnson from a year ago. In the team's regular offense, Lewis has been running second team behind Ismail and Johnson.
Lewis worked extremely hard during the off-season. He says he has something to prove.
"Yeah, I'm on a mission," said Lewis, a Maryland alum. "I've been working hard getting ready for training camp and the year. I want to give it all that I've got. I wasn't at all happy with my season last year, and that's my motivation.
"I've got to get faster and stronger. I had problems getting adjusted to my role. I wasn't used to coming out on certain formations and plays. Whatever my role is this season, I want to expand on it and make the best out of the opportunity.
"Last year was disappointing as a punt returner, too," said Lewis. "Teams started kicking toward the sideline, and when I got the opportunity to return them, I didn't get as much as I should have."
Billick said Lewis' play as a returner could have made the difference in the team's having a winning season instead of going 8-8.
"If Jermaine would have had the kind of year last year that he had in '98, we wouldn't have been 8-8," said Billick. "We'd have been 9-7, we'd have been 10-6. We've got to get that back at a minimum for him."
Offensive line a concern
One area of concern for the team is the offensive line.
The Ravens cut starting right guard Jeff Blackshear earlier in the off-season, leaving the team with Mike Flynn, an inexperienced third-year player, as the top replacement. The Ravens also have second-year player Edwin Mulitalo listed as the starting left guard.
Mulitalo showed promise last season, but he still has to prove he can play a full 16-game schedule without a severe dropoff in performance. Starting right tackle Harry Swayne, entering his 14th season, is also suspect coming back from a fractured foot that forced him to miss eight games last year.
"I'm very confident in the group of starting offensive linemen," said Mulitalo, who roomed with Blackshear last year in training camp. "Jeff Blackshear taught me to be a lot of things, and one of them was to be physical.
"True, I have never played a 16-game schedule, so it's a challenge. But I didn't come here to play a college schedule. I'm just going to take it game by game. Like coach Brian Billick said, you have to keep working hard to achieve your goal."
Swayne has been impressed with Flynn on as well as off the field.
"It's like night and day from playing with Jeff Blackshear," said Swayne. "This is a great opportunity for him to play, and that's all you can ask for in this league. Mike is going to go through a lot, but it's better for him to have tough times now and in training camp instead of during the regular season.
"He has got to make the best of the opportunity," said Swayne. "The guy works extremely hard, and it really hurt him when he didn't get a chance to play last year."
Redman down home
There is no position tougher to learn in the NFL than quarterback. Louisville's Chris Redman, the Ravens' third-round draft pick, got a crash course this weekend.
Fortunately, he got some help from Ravens veteran quarterbacks Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer, even though it was Dilfer's first couple of days in Billick's West Coast system as well.
Banks gave Redman the nickname of "Redneck."
"I'm from the city, but anytime you hear people say you're from Kentucky, they think you are country," said Redman. "Plus, a lot of people call me Red, so Redneck just kind of stuck with Tony.
"Overall, I thought things went pretty well," said Redman. "It was pretty upbeat, but I think these minicamps are more for the veterans than rookies.
"I learned a lot, and it was a good jump-start. I tried to grasp everything, but I didn't. It's hard to throw when you don't know everything. I understand what they want from me, and I know I'll probably get my opportunity down the road. It's nice having two veteran quarterbacks to work with."
McCrary ready to go
For the first time in four years, Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary hasn't had knee surgery during the off-season. He participated in most of the team drills during minicamp.
"No problems, it feels great," said McCrary. "I expect to participate fully in training camp and be healthy at the start of the regular season. A year ago at this time, I was still hobbling around after getting out of the wheelchair."
Poindexter holds up
Anthony Poindexter enjoyed participating in his first NFL minicamp, soreness and all. The second-year backup safety had two knee surgeries within a five-month period prior to last year's minicamp and spent most of the 1999 season on the physically unable to play list.
"It's holding up real well," said Poindexter, who hasn't had any swelling develop. "It's been a productive camp. I've still got a lot of learning to do. Each day, I'm getting a little bit better."
Making the adjustment
The first-round draft picks, running back Jamal Lewis and receiver Taylor, received a challenging initiation to the NFL.
"What they're finding out now is the tempo that you play and practice at in the NFL is different," Billick said. "Getting through practices was tough for them. This is a good indoctrination for them that says: Whatever standards you had set for yourself before, you're going to have to step it up a little bit."
Said Taylor: "You see fast that it's different. The competition level is much higher. You have to adjust real quickly." ...
Tight end Shannon Sharpe didn't participate in yesterday morning's practice because of a hamstring injury.
Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.