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Lewis never one to run in fast lane


Since Jamal Lewis entered the NFL in 2000, Ravens coaches have noticed improvement in him beyond rushing yards.

They have watched Lewis develop from a raw, hefty rookie to a sleek and focused All-Pro running back. They have watched him mature from the way he trains to how he selects friends.

The coaches said Lewis had turned the corner in his career.

Then came an allegation from his past. Then came an uncertainty about his future.

Lewis, 24, pleaded innocent to federal drug charges in Atlanta yesterday that he tried to help a childhood friend buy cocaine in the summer of 2000. The NFL's Offensive Player of the Year was released on $500,000 bond after about a 15-minute hearing in federal court.

"Obviously the distractions and issues he's facing right now start to put life into perspective and will help him put his future into perspective," running backs coach Matt Simon said. "From our position, we think he's done a pretty good job at learning how to manage a lot of things since he's been a Baltimore Raven. He has spent less time being a star and more time being a professional.

"There's a growing-up process to being a pro athlete. There's a growing-up process from being a teenager to a man. Sometimes we make mistakes and they are tough things we all have to go through. He's trying to meet one of those challenges now."

Lewis' challenge as a rookie in 2000 was adjusting to his new lifestyle.

His current six-year contract, which he signed before the 2000 training camp, included a $6.516 million signing bonus. He has collected nearly $15 million in his first four seasons and is scheduled to make a total of $5 million in the final two years.

His biggest purchases have been houses in Baltimore, Atlanta and Florida. During the offseason, he splits his time between Atlanta, where he has a $1.15 million home for himself and a $415,000 house for his mother, and Florida.

Lewis is known for driving around Baltimore in his Hummer, but he goes out of his way to protect his privacy.

His $293,000 home - which he has lived in since signing with the Ravens - sits on one acre in the quiet, western Baltimore community of Granite. Considered one of the more low-key players on the team, he rarely makes public appearances, goes on radio talk shows or stars in commercials. He generally speaks to reporters once during the week and after games.

He has been active in charities, starting the Another Love for One Foundation in 2002. The organization provides benefits and educational opportunities for low-income families.

Lewis' unassuming nature extends onto the field, too. His touchdown celebrations usually consist of him tossing the ball to the side and his explosive runs are capitalized by him simply running back to the huddle.

"He's a little bit shy," Simon said. "It's hard for the general public to understand a person like him. Sometimes it's the unknown of what the public really wants. He has learned how to acknowledge them and his appreciation for his support.

"At the same time, he's a young man who has his whole life in front of him. He is still trying to pursue the things he values most in life at a personal level and keep it very personal without it becoming too much of a public scene."

His indictment has pushed him squarely into the public eye.

Standing in the rain outside the federal courthouse, Lewis made his first public statement about the charges yesterday.

"I just want to say it's extremely important to me that my family, my friends, my fans and the Ravens' organization know that I am innocent," Lewis said, "and I thank everyone for their continued support."

Simon said Lewis, who is single, has learned how to better select family and friends who will support him.

In Simon's opinion, Lewis' mother, Mary Lewis, has been a key influence. She has become more visible over the last couple of years.

"He was pulled a lot of different directions becoming very notable in a short period of time," Simon said. "That's something we talked about: You had to keep yourself centered around things you value most. His mother is very important to him. She has been a great part of his support structure."

How Lewis has structured his life has factored into his training regimen.

He hired a nutritionist to make sure he is eating right. He took up kick-boxing last summer to keep him lean but not bulky.

As a result, Lewis reported to the Ravens' past training camp more powerfully built - 240 pounds with 7 percent body fat - and more agile than at any point in his career.

"This is a guy who grew leaps and bounds since he entered the league," said Earnest Byner, the former Ravens director of player development who now coaches running backs for the Washington Redskins. "He was a guy trying to do the right things off the field."

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