Lewis, defense trumps offense as camp opens

Mirroring Jamal Lewis' steps on a swing pass out of the backfield, linebacker Ray Lewis burst forward with the football in the air. Lewis pulled up slightly, yet his tackle still sent the Baltimore Ravens' stocky running back flying roughly to the ground with a loud pop as training camp began Monday morning at McDaniel College in Westminster. Lewis delivered an emphatic message that his left shoulder has healed fully from an injury that ended his 2002 season and required surgery.

The rest of the defense kept the intensity going on a day defined by interceptions, batted passes and collisions. The offense struggled to respond to the challenge, dropping passes and snaps, missing reads and jumping offsides.

"On the defensive side of the ball, we all just want to dominate every time we step on a football field," said Lewis, a former NFL Defen-sive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP. "Our defense is so athletic. Just to be out there with them and everybody putting the chemistry together, it's going to be a very exciting season."

Understandably, the of-fense couldn't share Lewis' zealous attitude. Not when its debut was punctuated by so many mistakes while new personnel got acclimated to the terminology and formations.

Plus, the quarterback competition is missing a key entrant as rookie Kyle Boller remains a holdout as does fellow first-round pick, line-backer Terrell Suggs.

"The problem was that there was a different tempo between the offense and the defense," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The defense evidently was listening to what I said. The offense was not. I wanted a certain pace. Half the ball got it, the other half didn't."

Between Lewis' aggressive style and a secondary that anticipated several telegraphed passes by quarterbacks Chris Redman and Anthony Wright, there was a stark contrast between the two units. Although it was only the first day of practice, the offense was markedly behind in terms of execution and focus.

Rookie tight end Trent Smith had a rough first practice with several drops and a bobbled pass in the afternoon workout that led to an inter-ception by safety Ed Reed.

Tight end Terry Jones received a rude awakening in the morning workout on a tough hit from cornerback Tom Knight.

"It wasn't as sharp as I would like it to be," Redman said. "It's the first day and we'll get better with time. The talent is here. It's just a matter of putting it all together."

Redman started six games last fall and went 3-3 with seven touchdowns, three interceptions and a 76.1 quarterback rating.

As for whether he feels he will ultimately win the job, Redman said, "I feel confident in myself. I think the players feel confident and, hopefully, the coaches do, too. Actually, I'm not worried about it too much."

Last season, the Ravens ranked 26th in the league in total offense and 27th in passing with 177.9 yards per game. Monday's offensive performance wasn't a surprise to the coaching staff, but it also wasn't anywhere near their ideal vision.

"You pull a blue-veiner every now and then," Billick said. "It's about typical for a first day, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating."

Meanwhile, Lewis successfully tested out his shoulder during the first contact of the half-pad session.

"It didn't feel like you always want it to," Lewis said. "Once I initially got through that first one, it was over."

Lewis spent the summer training five times daily, punishing himself with exercise to withstand the stresses of football season. Entering his eighth season, Lewis has been selected to five Pro Bowls with 1,172 career tackles, 14 interceptions, and 19.5 sacks.

"There is no second speed for Ray," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "It's all-out. He's as good a middle linebacker as I've ever seen. The only one who can give him a run for his money would be his coach, Mike Singletary."

Singletary, the team's line-backers coach, was a Hall of Fame middle linebacker with the Chicago Bears.

Lewis is determined to re-gain his status as the NFL's top defensive player, an honor claimed last year by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks. Last season, Lewis had 85 tackles and two interceptions, playing only five games be-fore partially separating his left shoulder. Now, he carries a scar and a chip.

"That's why I'm staking my claim," Lewis said. "If you take my title because I was hurt last year that's another thing. But if you want to take my title when I'm healthy come earn it."

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