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Ravens played hand perfectly with R. Lewis


If there was anything to learn from Ray Lewis smiling and giving an upbeat "State of Me" address as training camp opened yesterday, it's that the Ravens were right just to sit back and do nothing while their star linebacker's relatively tumultuous offseason played itself out.

In the final reckoning, the team held all the cards. Lewis didn't have any.

Even though he was upset enough about some aspect of his football life (the direction of the team? his contract? both?) back in February to have expressed some discontent and explored potential trades, he was, in the end, under contract for 2006. Obligated to play. For the Ravens. In return for a lot of money.

That meant his only choice, really, was to either come back and play here, or not play at all. And that's no choice for a guy who loves football as much as Lewis, approaches it with so much passion and professionalism, and earns so much doing it.

"Sometimes things can get misconstrued," Lewis told reporters after a morning workout yesterday. "The bottom line is, I'm back here ready to play football, ready to talk to you guys, have a great season and see where we go from there."

That's a positive development for the Ravens, who need all the breaks they can get after stumbling to a 6-10 record last year.

Even though their defense adjusted well to life without Lewis when he missed the last 10 games with a torn hamstring that required surgery, and even though Lewis, 31, isn't the dominating presence he was in his prime, he is still a strong and effective player - an asset for any defense as long as he is healthy and happy.

Considering what the Ravens were offered for him in potential deals (a lot less than the first-round draft pick they wanted), they're much better off having him around, especially since his endlessly analyzed spirits seemingly have been buoyed (like almost everyone else's) by the addition of quarterback Steve McNair, who is expected to jump-start the struggling offense.

"Things couldn't get much more exciting in Baltimore," Lewis said yesterday. "Because we're very unpredictable now [with McNair]. A lot of people have played us one way for a long time. You know, they can run [but not pass], whatever. But I don't believe you can do that anymore."

He later added, "In my heart of hearts, I don't think there's a team that can sit there and beat us for 60 minutes."

The vintage Happy Ray interview was hard to envision just a few months ago, when Lewis seemed to be ruffling the team's feathers just to see what would happen. For those who don't recall, he indirectly criticized the team's interior defense, no-commented a question about coach Brian Billick, studiously avoided local reporters and told ESPN the team should trade him if it wasn't going to use him correctly.

Before that, he often sat by himself on the bench during games in 2005.

Yes, all that did happen, and though it's true "sometimes things can get misconstrued," as Lewis said yesterday, he sure looked like a guy who wanted out. As The Sun has reported, the Ravens even allowed him to look around and see what kind of trade he could drum up.

Nothing came of that, but when a player and team start dancing around each other that way instead of dancing with each other, the situation seems destined to end badly. Radio talk shows and Internet bulletin boards go nuts. Stories get twisted; feelings get hurt. It appears there is no way out.

But there is.

Just do ... nothing.

Yesterday, Lewis looked as cheerful and committed as a rookie; wearing a helmet, black shorts and black high-top cleats through a no-contact practice, he ran around and made plays, just like always. His mobility looked fine. His shouts to teammates were plainly audible.

He was into it.

"I feel real good," he said. "I didn't feel any tweaks. I can burst. I can run. God has been good. My leg has been healing perfectly."

Billick, for one, was impressed. "He was moving around, communicating, looked good," the coach said.

What happened to the unhappy Ray? He might still be in there somewhere, buried for now beneath the optimism and enthusiasm a new season always generates. We'll see. Lewis was assessing the team but could have been talking about himself when he asked: "The question is, can we do it together? Can we weather the storm of whatever comes up?"

The Ravens did just that in dealing with their signature player while he raised a ruckus during the offseason. They weathered the storm. They had all the power, subtly wielded it, and now, they've got their player back.

Sometimes, good things come to teams that just do nothing.

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