Jamal Lewis sees his opportunity and wants to run with it.
The Ravens' rookie running back had anticipated being named the Ravens' featured back before the fourth week of the season. But an elbow injury in the first scrimmage hindered his progress as well as his plans.
In making the second start of his career, Lewis will try to build upon his 76-yard performance last week at Miami and continue to speed up the learning curve against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
"This is kind of slower than what I expected," Lewis said. "I was anxious and ready. It's a good feeling. I feel like I'm ready and prepared."
Lewis moves ahead of Priest Holmes, who had his two biggest rushing days against the Bengals. But Cincinnati has shifted this season to a 4-3 defense, and ranks ninth in the NFL in rushing defense.
Since the four-man front limits running lanes, a power back like Lewis could deliver more success than the smaller Holmes.
"Jamal's 235 pounds, that's a big man," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's the thing that drew us to him. You look at those backs that were all drafted early in the first round. With the exception of [the New York Giants' Ron] Dayne, they're all cookie-cutter at 5-10, 5-11, 215 [pounds].
"That's great, they're solid. But this guy jumped out at you because he was bigger than they were with the exception of Dayne and faster than they were."
The Bengals may try to capitalize on Lewis' inexperience on passing situations by blitzing and showing several different looks. But Lewis welcomes the challenge.
"I think blocking is part of being a great back," Lewis said. "I did it in Tennessee. It's not that big of a deal. It's not that hard. It's not brain surgery."
Dilfer's patience tested
Trent Dilfer had to learn patience as the Ravens' backup. Now, that patience will be tested further.
After undergoing surgery on his left knee Monday for a ligament tear, he can't predict when he'll return to practice. Dilfer is listed as doubtful for Sunday, and the team expects him to miss possibly two weeks.
"It feels great for being two days out of surgery," said Dilfer, who has swelling in his knee.
"Right now, it's day by day. You get as good as you can for that day and see where it puts you. If I start putting a timetable on it, you get frustrated or put limitations on yourself. I just want to get better as quickly as possible."
Running on empty
The Bengals are running out of answers.
Running back Corey Dillon has 73 yards on 29 carries (2.5 yards-per-carry) and the Bengals' longest run of the season has been 22 yards - by punter Daniel Pope. It doesn't get any easier for Cincinnati in facing the Ravens, the league's second-best run defense.
"We tried to run the ball against Jacksonville and couldn't run it hardly at all," Cincinnati coach Bruce Coslet said. "Either that improves, or I don't know what we're going to do. That has to pick up. It sets up everything we do."
Mitchell returns to PSINet
It was only a year ago that Scott Mitchell began the season as the Ravens' starting quarterback. He threw 56 passes before being benched for the rest of the season.
Mitchell makes a similar brief appearance as he returns to PSINet Stadium for the first time Sunday with the Bengals. He is backing up second-year quarterback Akili Smith.
"Scott's real good for Akili," Coslet said. "He's a confidant of Akili's. He can look at the game through the quarterback's eyes and can tell him between series what happened. He's done a good job in that role."
Injury report: Dilfer (knee) is doubtful and did not practice; receiver Qadry Ismail (knee) and tight end John Jones (knee) are questionable but both practiced. ... Rookie quarterback Chris Redman, the Ravens' backup for Sunday, threw for 15 minutes after practice to receiver Billy Davis. ... The Bengals have only drove into the red zone three times, the fewest in the NFL. ... Ravens kicker Matt Stover won the AFC special teams Player of the Week award twice against the Bengals last season and is 32 of 36 (88.9 percent) on career field goals against them. ... It's the last home game for the Ravens until Oct. 22, when they play host to Tennessee. ... Former Maryland coach Mark Duffner is in his fourth season as Cincinnati's linebackers coach.