Behind Enemy Lines: 7/28/04

Jamal Lewis running through, and past, the Browns defense is an image that will remain with Browns fans for a long time. But Lewis might be stopped even before the Browns and Ravens kick off the regular season this September. Here is the latest from behind enemy lines in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the Land of Ratbirds....

BALTIMORE RAVENS

The fate of running back Jamal Lewis likely will be decided during the Ravens' regular season or later.

Lewis' lawyers, who once anticipated a trial in August, said they expect the case to be tried no earlier than September and no later than February. Lewis, the reigning NFL rushing champion, was indicted on federal drug charges earlier this year.

Donald Samuel, a lawyer for Lewis, said he expects to make a request - either in writing or informally during a pre-trial conference - to the judge to delay the trial until after the season.

The Ravens' regular season begins Sept. 12 and ends Jan. 2. Players report to training camp July 29.

Ravens officials said they would adapt to Lewis' schedule as much as possible and have considered approaching the situation in a similar fashion to what the Los Angeles Lakers did with Kobe Bryant. Bryant stayed in the starting lineup during the NBA regular season and playoffs by flying back and forth to Colorado to attend court sessions in his sexual assault case.
"There is a judicial process that we respect," said Kevin Byrne, the team's senior vice president of public relations. "If Jamal has to adjust his football schedule, that's the reality."

Samuel said he couldn't predict how the presiding judge - Atlanta-based Orinda D. Evans, who has been on the federal bench for 25 years - would treat such a request.

"The judge knows he's a football player. But the judge also knows that people have jobs, and they have to go to trial anyways," Samuel said.

Lewis, 24, who rushed for 2,066 yards last season - the second-best total in NFL history - will be ready whenever the case is called, Samuel said.

"We have no idea when the judge will tell us to show up," Samuel said in an e-mail. "We'll be ready; but as of now, she may call us and tell us to be here in three weeks, or she may say that she thinks it is reasonable to wait until February."

Patrick Crosby, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment.

Lewis, who was raised in Atlanta, was indicted five months ago and charged with helping broker a cocaine deal for a hometown friend. He is also charged with using a cell phone in the commission of a drug crime.

The running back could face a career-halting, mandatory prison term of at least 10 years if he is convicted and the alleged conspiracy is found to involve at least 5 kilograms of cocaine.

RAVENS NOTES

  • The Ravens are anticipating placing linebacker Peter Boulware (knee) and backup quarterback Anthony Wright (shoulder) on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp. If both stay on that list at the start of the regular season, they would be required to miss the first six games.
     
  • The Ravens remain in talks with their seven draft picks but have yet to sign any of them. Training camp begins July 30 at McDaniel College.
     
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's definitely taken a hands-off approach with me. He wants to be informed to what we're doing and why we're doing it. But I think he's got complete trust in me to do the job. He's in a learning mode right now, but he's a quick study." -- General manager Ozzie Newsome on new principal owner Steve Bisciotti.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

The Bengals reached Friday, July 23, with only one of their 11 draft picks signed. Players were to report to training camp in one week, July 30, and the front office was still trying to sign 10 rookies.

The only draft pick to sign so far has been sixth-rounder Greg Brooks, a cornerback from Southern Miss. He signed a three-year deal. Terms were not disclosed.

While the agents for third-round linebacker Landon Johnson and seventh-round quarterback Casey Bramlet says their clients will not miss any camp practices, there was no word from agent Eugene Parker, who represents first-round running back Chris Perry.

Parker is known for starting at 10 percent more than what the player received the previous year in the same spot and does not have a history of smooth dealings with the Bengals.

Seven of the 10 previous first-round Bengals draft picks have missed at least one day of training camp in a contract holdout. The most recent examples were Smith (2001), who sat out all of camp; and quarterback Akili Smith (1999), who missed almost four weeks.

Three of the past four No. 1s have been in on time: wide receiver Peter Warrick (2000), left offensive tackle Levi Jones (2002) and quarterback Carson Palmer (2003).

Bengals officials had contacted player agents in late May and early June and were told by each of the 10 agents - Drew Rosenhaus has two Bengals rookie clients, cornerback Keiwan Ratliff and defensive tackle Matthias Askew - that they wanted to wait until the second half of July.

The Bengals have been allotted $4.6 million to spend on draft picks. The number, called for in the league's collective bargaining agreement, comes from a formula that accounts for the number of draft picks each team has and where in each round they were selected.

BENGALS NOTES

  • Chad Johnson is nationwide. Johnson's No. 85 jersey is the third leading seller nationally since April 1 on NFLShop.com. The top two are jerseys for Eagles receiver Terrell Owens and Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

    Johnson's third-place showing is the highest for Bengals jersey since NFLShop.com's inception in 1999. The No. 28 formerly worn by tailback Corey Dillon, now with the Patriots, had cracked the top 25 a couple of times, a league spokesman said.

    In terms of team merchandise, the Bengals continue to rank in the bottom third of the league, spokesman Dan Masonson said. The top five teams are Oakland, New England, Green Bay, Dallas and Philadelphia.
     
  • Washington's Joe Gibbs will join Bengals' founder Paul Brown as the only coaches to coach in an NFL Hall of Fame game after their induction to the shrine in Canton.

    Gibbs' Redskins will play Denver on Monday night, Aug. 9. Gibbs returns to the NFL this season after leading the Redskins to a 124-60 record and three Super Bowl titles from 1981-92. He was enshrined in 1996.

    Brown coached the Bengals in the fame game in 1975, his final season as an NFL coach. He was inducted in 1967 and died in 1991 while still working as Bengals general manager.
     
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "My thing is to come in and play my role. I want to help this team be better than it was last year. If it's in the defensive backfield or on special teams, I'll do what I'm told." -- Rookie cornerback Greg Brooks, when asked about having his contract behind him.


PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The biggest signing of the year for Pittsburgh came last week when linebacker James Farrior agreed to a five-year contract worth $16.4 million. Farrior received a $4.5 million signing bonus, more than the $4 million running back Duce Staley received as their only major free agent signing this year.

Farrior, 29, has played only two seasons in Pittsburgh but is already challenging two others, Joey Porter and Kendrell Bell, as their most productive and consistently reliable linebacker. He led the team with 127 tackles last season and also ranked third with seven passes defensed, to go with an interception.

He plays on the inside next to Bell in the 3-4 defense but added more duties last year when he became their middle linebacker in their dime, staying on the field for all the defensive snaps. That's a job Porter previously held. After Porter missed the first two games because he was shot randomly last summer, the Steelers returned him to his old post as a right end in their dime defense.

The Steelers will pay Farrior annual salaries of $660,000, $2.1 million, $2.9 million, $3 million and $3.24 million and they believe he can remain effective for three or four more years. His versatility helped convince them he was worth the money. Besides leading them in tackles, he's an excellent coverage linebacker and he also can play outside. That's where he played with the Jets, who drafted him in the first round in 1997 and lost him to the Steelers in free agency in 2002.

"I just want to stay on the field and contribute any way I can," Farrior said. "Any player wants to stay out there. Nobody wants to come off."

New coordinator Dick LeBeau has a mild dilemma on his hands - how to put Farrior and Bell on the field at the same time in all defenses. The Steelers tried Bell at the right rush end in the dime last season but he was a fish out of water. Bell, the NFL's defensive rookie of the year in 2001, works best standing up on the inside.

It's possible LeBeau will try more nickel defenses than the Steelers favored dime. That way, he can keep Bell and Farrior on the inside with Porter and linebacker Clark Haggans on the outside and go with five defensive backs instead of six. Farrior could serve as the main coverage linebacker while Porter and Bell attack the quarterback.

"I think we have the talent to do whatever we need to do to take it to the top; it's just putting it together," Farrior said.
Farrior thinks the Steelers will improve on defense under LeBeau's guidance.

"I think our new coordinator is going to make things happen and we'll be more aggressive than we were last year. I feel confident we'll be very aggressive."

STEELER NOTES

  • WR Plaxico Burress ended his boycott and worked out at the Steelers for the first time in 2 1/2 months on July 12. He skipped all of the team's spring workouts, including a mandatory three-day minicamp, because he's unhappy they have not tried to negotiate a new contract for him. Burress has one year left on the deal he signed as their first-round draft pick in 2000, and they have no plans at the moment to extend it.

    His agent said Burress will report on time for training camp July 30 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.
     
  • The Steelers again have two Wednesday night practice sessions scheduled at local high schools during training camp -- Aug. 4 at Latrobe and Aug. 11 at nearby Greensburg, starting at 7 p.m. Because they charge a nominal fee that goes to charity, the Steelers open themselves to scouts from other NFL teams. The league permits opposing scouts to attend practices only if an admission is charged for them.
     
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm optimistic about everything. The goal is to win the Super Bowl every year, that's the same goal this year." - CB Chad Scott

 

 


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