Before the start of yesterday's practice, Ravens cornerback Corey Fuller stood in one corner of the field and laughed loudly with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Gary Baxter. A half hour later, Fuller was equally jovial during the workout.
Showing no ill effects from a quadriceps injury that limited his play last year, Fuller accelerated through receivers to break up passes and cut sharply on his previously injured leg to jump routes, gliding to the ball as if he didn't have a care in the world.
"I'm at peace right now being back on the football field. I've been needing this," Fuller said. "It's been a long offseason. Actually, it's been a long 15, 16 months."
That qualifies as an understatement.
While this week's four-day mandatory minicamp may provide Fuller a chance to reunite with friends and a temporary oasis from his problems, the reality is that two felony counts from gambling allegations await him in his hometown of Tallahassee, Fla., charges that could carry a prison sentence.
Fuller is charged with operating a gambling house, a third-degree felony, and using a gun in the commission of a felony, which is a second-degree felony. Fuller has pleaded not guilty, and a trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 23, three days after the Ravens' second preseason game.
Assistant State Attorney Matt Smith anticipates Fuller's defense team will ask for a continuance with the hope of delaying the trial until after the season. Smith said the prosecution would be willing to wait one to three months but would not agree to a date that stretches the case into next year, though the decision will be made by the judge.
In addition to the gambling allegations, Fuller lost his grandmother in early January and exchanged gunfire with an intruder a little more than a week after that, so his return to football probably could not have come soon enough.
"I'm sure that it feels good for him to get back here and focus on the task at hand for himself," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He knows that there's a specific role for him on this team."
Judging from the first couple of days, Fuller appears determined to establish himself as the team's nickel (fifth) defensive back, despite the addition of former Pro Bowl cornerback Dale Carter.
Fuller and Carter likely will wage one of training camp's most interesting battles for that position, but the fact that he is even being given a shot is enough for Fuller.
"I respect the [Ravens'] organization enough so that if they would have cut me right away, I would have felt like they did what they felt was right for this team, organization and community," Fuller said. "That is one of the reasons why I signed here. I knew what I was coming to. I wouldn't have had any hard feelings. ...
"I'm just happy to be living. Football is secondary after what I've been through."
In this instance, Fuller was referring more to the January gunfight outside his home in what appeared to be an attempted robbery gone awry.
Fuller said he was walking a visitor to his car in the wee hours of the morning when a man jumped out of the bushes and started shooting at him.
Fuller made it inside his home and retrieved a gun from his safe while the intruder broke into the house. Another occupant of the house pulled out a gun and shot at the intruder in the kitchen.
Fuller then chased the intruder out of the house and exchanged about 20 shots with him before he jumped into a waiting car. No arrests were made in the case, and no one was hit with the gunfire.
"It's hard for me to watch a show that has violence in it and go to sleep," Fuller said. "I've had guns pulled on me before but not actually shot at me.
"Can't nothing happen if the Lord is for you. And the Lord was for me that night."
Fuller said he is looking at homes outside Florida, though he knows he will have to make one guaranteed return visit for his impending trial.
If Fuller gets his desired result, he will be able to combine the laughter and joy he gets by being on the football field with relief when he is off.
"It's not anything I can worry about now. I just have to let the courts handle it and my lawyers," said Fuller, who could not discuss the details of the case. "I've got to be judged by 12. I'd rather be judged by them than to have one person form their opinion."