One game into the reclamation of punt returner Jermaine Lewis, the Ravens must prepare for one of the most difficult of special teams propositions: the punt driven out of bounds.
It could happen often Sunday when the Ravens meet the Jacksonville Jaguars at PSINet Stadium.
In the opener a year ago at St. Louis, Lewis was helpless as the Rams hit each of four punts out of bounds. Here's the catch: Frank Gansz, the special teams coach of the Rams then, is the special teams coach of the Jaguars now.
"We might see the same thing," Ravens special teams coach Russ Purnell said yesterday. "I've got to prepare Jermaine for that.
"I'm going to say, 'There's nothing you can do about what the punter does. If they start punting the ball out of bounds, you can't get frustrated. You've got to be patient. And if they give you an opportunity, now you've got to burn them.' "
Lewis, whose punt-return average dipped to a career-low 7.9 yards in 1999 after a Pro Bowl campaign in '98, had returns of 16 and 18 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. He appeared on the verge of breaking a big play, finishing with five returns for 50 yards.
"I think we're getting close," Lewis said. "I think the guys are getting a better feel for how I'm returning it. This year, I'm going to be more aggressive. I always tend to be aggressive, but I'm going to be more aggressive. I'm putting a lot more of my attention toward punt returns."
Said Purnell: "Jermaine is running aggressively, he's running confidently. The guys are blocking for him; they see we're on the edge of popping one."
It would be fitting if it came Sunday. In eight career games against the Jaguars, Lewis has generated 933 combined yards. He has 19 receptions for 334 yards and five touchdowns, 455 yards in kickoff returns, 139 on punt returns and a 5-yard rush.
"I'm not sure what the reason is," Lewis said of his success against Jacksonville. "Hopefully, I can recreate what happened [in the past]."
Adams misses workout
The Ravens received good news and bad on the injury front. While center Jeff Mitchell appears ready to return from a knee injury, defensive tackle Sam Adams was held out of yesterday's practice with soreness and swelling in his right knee.
Coach Brian Billick said Adams aggravated his knee in Wednesday's workout. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow," Billick said. "My rule is, two out of three."
That means an injured player must participate in two practices between Wednesday and Friday to play Sunday. Adams is listed as probable on the team's injury report, but if he can't go, Lional Dalton likely would be his replacement at left tackle.
Mitchell was listed as questionable after missing Wednesday's practice, but worked out yesterday. "Jeff looked good," Billick said.
"If I wake up in the morning and if it's not this big," Mitchell said, holding hands two feet apart, "yeah, I'll play. It felt good."
Mitchell suffered a contusion under his left kneecap on Sunday in Pittsburgh. He said there was torn cartilage in the knee, but that he can still push off with it.
Tight end Ben Coates is another Raven who has fared well against the Jaguars. Playing for the New England Patriots, Coates had 10 catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns in two games against Jacksonville. ... Safety Rod Woodson has three career interceptions against the Jaguars, linebacker Peter Boulware eight career sacks, and defensive end Michael McCrary five career sacks. ... How rare was Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe's shutout on Sunday? Discounting the game in which he broke his collarbone last year, he had caught a pass in 68 consecutive games. ... Here is Billick's game plan for Sunday's crowd: "A lot of pasta this week. Carbo-up. Take a few power bars to the game. So in the third and fourth quarter, which is where we have lost the game the last two years, we need for them to have an energy boost, too, to see if they can help us out."