Ravens response: Let process play out

On the day when running back Jamal Lewis pleaded not guilty to federal drug charges, the Ravens went about business as usual Thursday at their Owings Mills practice complex.

The team held a previously planned personnel meeting that was attended by coaches, scouts and owners Art Modell and Steve Bisciotti. When asked if the future of the running back position was discussed, team officials said it would be "inappropriate" to discuss that at this time.

Most likely, the Ravens won't have to address this situation until 2005. A federal drug trial isn't expected to come up on the docket until early next year, which means Lewis likely would play this season.

"Due process is taking its course," said Bisciotti, who becomes the Ravens' sole owner in April. "We're watching it closely."

Lewis, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year, was charged with conspiring to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute from June to July 2000. If convicted, he faces 10 years to life in prison.

Lewis' situation likely won't affect the Ravens' strategy in the April draft. They used a third-round pick last year on running back Musa Smith and have been quietly optimistic about his potential.

Still, the prospect of losing the NFL rushing champion would strike a blow to a team expected to contend for the Super Bowl for the next couple of years.

"Jamal means a lot to the team," inside linebacker Ed Hartwell said. "He's the best running back in the league. How would he not mean a lot to a team?"

In other Ravens news:

- Trainer Bill Tessendorf said linebacker Ray Lewis had his right shoulder examined yesterday and referred to the findings as "positive." Lewis was expected to have minor surgery on the shoulder. He is scheduled to undergo additional testing this week.

- Ravens officials have talked with all 12 of their players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 3. Newsome said the team could sign some of the players before they hit the free-agent market.

"We're thoroughly ready to get a deal done," Newsome said. "But they have the right to see what's out on the market."

- The team has been talking with kicker Matt Stover, who is scheduled to become a free agent next month, about a new contract. Negotiations were helped with the Carolina Panthers' signing of kicker John Kasay, who received a five-year, $8.5 million contract with a $2 million signing bonus.

"We made some progress," said Jim Steiner, Stover's agent, "but we're certainly not there yet."

- Newsome said the team might have "mild" interest in former Ravens defensive tackle Lional Dalton, who was released by the Washington Redskins on Tuesday. The Ravens are already stocked at nose tackle with Kelly Gregg, Maake Kemoeatu and Aubrayo Franklin.

"At some point this offseason, he could be of interest to us," Newsome said. "If one of those guys would get hurt - hopefully that doesn't happen - Lional is a guy that we know. He's a guy we will monitor in the offseason."