J. Lewis to get back in running


Jamal Lewis doesn't know how his first test will begin, but the Ravens running back has a vision of how it will end.

Whether it's a grinding run up the gut of the defense or a swing pass with yards of open grass ahead, Lewis wants to initiate contact and squash the doubts.

His yearlong comeback from reconstructive surgery to his left knee heats up tonight, when Lewis returns to the starting lineup and goes under the microscope.

Likely to endure his first tackle since last year's training camp, Lewis has seen his expected six-play appearance turn into the main event at Ravens Stadium, where the Ravens' next preseason game comes against the New York Jets.

But he won't be satisfied unless his cameo includes a collision.

"I want to get out there and really get it done, to really drop my pads and keep on going like 2000," Lewis said. "My main thing is my knee drive and how I keep my legs pumping. That's what I'm used to doing and that's what I do best. That's going to be the key and really let me know where I'm at."

Before the injury, Lewis fueled the Ravens' offense with his bash-and-dash style, blending brute force with uncanny speed for his 240-pound frame. The fifth overall pick in the 2000 draft, Lewis ran for a franchise single-season record of 1,364 yards as a rookie.

Last year's campaign ended before it began as Lewis went down in the first week of training camp. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Aug. 8, 2001, and was lost for the season.

Now, the Ravens' success depends heavily on the surgically repaired knee of Lewis. A fully recovered Lewis would allow the Ravens to go back to a ball-control game, taking the offensive burden off of first-year starting quarterback Chris Redman and keeping a young defense off the field.

The Ravens, though, have not yet sized up Lewis against any physical pounding. Since hitting Lewis has been off limits during off-season minicamps and the first couple weeks of training camp, he hasn't gotten a scratch.

Up until tonight, Lewis and the Ravens could only wait. And hope. And wonder.

"As confident as he is, once he gets those two to three hits out of the way, whatever hesitation in his mind exists will be removed," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Both for him and me."

For Lewis, it's less about hesitation and more about controlling his anxiety.

He has been itching to return to the field. His last game was Super Bowl XXXV, when he rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown in the Ravens' championship victory.

"I think I got my groove back," Lewis said, "and I'm ready to roll."

Lewis' arrival could boost an offense that began the preseason sputtering.

The Ravens had the ball in Detroit Lions' territory seven times Friday and came away with two field goals. Their running backs totaled 45 yards on 18 carries (an average of 2.5 yards).

"He [Lewis] means business every time he touches the ball," Redman said. "That attitude is going to carry over to the whole offense."

Redman's biggest task is overcoming his mental mistakes.

On the first play of the preseason opener, he looked to one side of the field when the pass coverage told him to scan the opposite side. And when he got intercepted deep down the field, he should have known the safety was playing too deep for that throw by the way the defense was aligned before the snap.

"It's the most I've learned since I've been in the NFL," Redman said.

Said offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh: "I really felt like his command and presence were good and his alertness was there. He's just got to improve on some of his reads. We came out of film thinking if he made about three or four different reads, he would have had a much better night."

The Ravens plan to play Redman for the entire first half and give backup Jeff Blake most of the second half to work.

In his second game with the Ravens, Blake has to gain a better feel of the system especially when making hot reads. But the 11-year veteran still has his sights on becoming the Ravens' starter and hasn't been too shy in making his intentions known.

"You want your backup to be that way," Billick said. "You want him to think, 'You're a heck of guy, coach, but you're a little screwed up because you're not making me the starter.' "

Tonight, however, all eyes will be on Lewis and every finger will be crossed.

"I'm the nervous type," Billick said. "I worry about a lot of things. But at some point, you've got to let him go play."

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