RAVENS PRO BOWL inside linebacker Ray Lewis is smiling a lot these days. He has started a mortgage company, a possible movie career and is close to earning a bachelor of science degree from the University of Maryland.
That's the secondary stuff.
Of more concern is where Lewis is as far as rehabilitating an injured shoulder that forced him to miss 11 games last season. Lewis had surgery to repair a tear in the labrum of his left shoulder on Dec. 10. He said he is about a month ahead of schedule. Trainer Bill Tessendorf said it's about a week or two.
Either way, the Ravens and Lewis are happy.
The sad look Lewis carried on his face during the winter is gone. The weight is still about 245 despite months of inactivity, and Lewis talks openly about winning another title. He also said he has to earn back his reputation as the game's best inside linebacker from Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks.
Uh-oh, Lewis is on a mission again.
"I have nothing to worry about," Lewis said. "I just train and go home. Train and go home. I wanted to get the surgery done and over with, get back to the point where I am today. I always follow the famous quote that 'The best never rest.' That [Brooks] thing has [ticked] me off. The worst thing to do to me was put me in seclusion. It gave me too much time to think, and I'm always trying to find ways to get better."
Tessendorf said: "His doctor is pleased with the progress to date, and has let him do some things earlier than most in his rehabilitation. His doctor knows that Ray is a special guy, and he just has that God-given gift [to heal fast]."
It has been a slow offseason compared with a year ago, when the Ravens had perhaps the greatest player housecleaning in the history of the NFL. Team officials expected to have Lewis ready for an April minicamp, which probably would mean light workouts.
Lewis expects to go full tilt. That's because he is working out six to eight hours a day. Lewis isn't lifting a lot of heavy weights with his upper body, but he's spending that time doing range-of-motion work with his shoulder underwater.
"He is progressing easily," Tessendorf said. "Once the muscles begin to accept the stress, we can keep moving along."
It will be hard to slow Lewis down. At the beginning of last season, he was the game's most dominant player. In just five games, he had 85 tackles. He turned in a great show on Monday Night Football against the Denver Broncos, then delivered an encore performance six days later in another nationally televised game against the Cleveland Browns.
But he also suffered the injury in that game. Lewis played one more game afterward.
"After surgery, the doctor told me the shoulder was beat up pretty badly," Lewis said. "I had a lot of wear and tear on it through the years. The most positive thing is that the shoulder will come back healthier than it's ever been. When you let it linger like that, the condition starts to deteriorate and you don't feel as strong. You start to wonder why."
Lewis, a seven-year veteran, was having his best season until the injury. He was finally starting to get a lot more recognition nationally and more endorsements. Despite the inactivity last season, he hasn't lost any appeal.
According to Lewis, actor Wesley Snipes has called him about an appearance in his next film. Lewis is also one of three partners in a mortgage company, and he has been quietly earning a degree in business.
"I haven't told anyone about the degree, but hopefully I'll be able to walk across the stage in May," Lewis said. "It's tough to go to school because of my schedule, but we're trying to work something out. As far as the movie, hopefully we can get that finished where I might be able to fly out and do a cameo. Athletics have never dictated to me how successful I wanted to be in life; it was just a bridge to open up some of the avenues I wanted to do. I want to be the best I can be in every aspect of life."
But the immediate goal is on the field. Lewis said he was excited about being coached by Mike Singletary, the former great Chicago Bears middle linebacker, who played with as much passion as Lewis.
"I sort of tailored my game after him," Lewis said. "Mike is a great role model to me. To have him on my side is a great asset. What he brings is one or two things I don't have. Do I know what they are? No. But even if it's about life, about being a man, I can use it."
Lewis expects to fly to Texas on Monday, looking for a site for his one-month boot camp before training camp begins in the summer. He is looking for extensive heat, has planned a diet of water, baked chicken, turkey, fruits and vegetables. A season that was cut short in 2002 has him motivated. He has a new sweatshirt about to come out that says: "Under Construction."
"I am committed to being stronger and faster than I've ever been," Lewis said. "I'm not afraid to tell you that I'm going to train hard enough and tell you to come beat me. Anybody on our schedule, every good running back, every whatever, they've got to come see me one way or another.
"Muhammad Ali didn't win them all, but there is a reason he went down as the greatest - because there was never a match he stepped in that he didn't think he could win. That's how I am on the football field. I don't believe there is any football game I enter that I don't think we can win. I believe my teammates feel I have a certain energy, and they just ride it. That's when everyone comes together."
His teammates are feeling his energy now at the training complex.
"We've got players over here now working with Ray because of his leadership," Tessendorf said. "Ray wants to build this defense back to where it was. The guy is here at 8 a.m. in the offseason. He has a commitment to getting better and better."