J. Lewis could face drug charges in August

OWINGS MILLS – The majority of the Baltimore Ravens will reconvene today for a mandatory full-team minicamp that will include embattled Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis amidst the possibility that he could stand trial on federal drug conspiracy charges in Atlanta before the season. "We are aware that there's a possibility that Jamal could stand trial in August, but we've known all along that was a possibility and no trial date has been set yet," team spokesman Kevin Byrne said.

The team said that Lewis will briefly address his indictment before practice this morning.

The reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year has pleaded not guilty, is free on a $500,000 bond and hasn't been assigned a court date.

Lewis, 24, was charged Feb. 26 with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine and using a cellular phone in the commission of a drug crime as part of an FBI investigation into drug activity in an Atlanta project.

While no gag order has been issued by the presiding judge, Lewis has been advised by lawyers Ed Garland and Don Samuel not to speak with the media until after his trial. However, Lewis is expected to address the accusations against him and how he'll handle the legal situation today while not commenting on the specific details of his case. In a brief statement in February, Lewis said he was innocent.

The Ravens said Lewis will continue to answer football-related questions, but won't answer questions about his legal situation until after the trial. Samuel didn't return a telephone call.

Garland and Samuel are arguing with prosecutors for evidence in pretrial discovery and have attacked the credibility of a female informant whom they have portrayed as a habitual criminal who continued to commit crimes while on the government payroll.

Lewis rushed for a league-high 2,066 yards last season, the second-most in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson, as Baltimore won the AFC North title.

The FBI has alleged that Lewis helped Angelo "Pero" Jackson, his co-defendant and childhood friend, broker a major cocaine deal in the summer of 2000 shortly before signing a six-year, $35.3 million contract with the Ravens after being drafted fifth overall out of the University of Tennessee.

Meanwhile, every veteran player is expected to be present for the start of a four-day minicamp except for franchise player Chris McAlister.

The Pro Bowl cornerback is seeking a new contract after being designated as the franchise player for the second consecutive year.

McAlister is slated to be paid a $7.1 million salary this season, but hasn't signed his one-year tender and is seeking a long-term contract similar to Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey: seven years, $63 million, $18 million signing bonus.

McAlister has been in contact with Ravens coach Brian Billick, but isn't required to attend off-season activities.

Billick has said he's comfortable with McAlister's work ethic, and conditioning hasn't been an issue with the former first-round draft pick in the past.

McAlister's agent, Mitch Frankel, said he still expects to resume negotiations after July 15, but doesn't sound optimistic about reaching an accord.

"We were very far apart the last time we talked," Frankel said. "I don't know what is going to change, but I'm open-minded. We'll see how it goes. Chris is a great football player and he wants to be paid that way."

Prior to July 15, a new contract with McAlister would result in the Ravens being penalized by losing the right to use the franchise designation on any player over the entire length of that deal.

The Ravens have exclusive rights to negotiate with McAlister, but he could stage a holdout. In that event, though, he wouldn't be paid at all.

This week will also mark the first participation of veteran cornerback Corey Fuller with the team of the off-season.

Fuller, 32, is facing a third-degree felony gambling charge for allegedly operating a gambling house, a second-degree felony charge of using a firearm while in commission of a felony and a misdemeanor gambling charge in Tallahassee, Fla.

Fuller has repeatedly professed his innocence and no trial date has been set. The team expects him to contend for nickel duties with newly-signed cornerback Dale Carter.

Despite these off-field issues, including outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' felony assault trial in Arizona set for Sept. 9, the Ravens have been designated as the favorites to win the division again by Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher and Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.

NOTE: All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis commented again last week on receiver Terrell Owens joining the Philadelphia Eagles after a nullified trade to Baltimore.

"He is a man that went away from and against his word," Lewis told Sporting News Radio. "He did so many wrong things in the process of treating it like a business. He didn't treat it like a business and it put a lot of people in jeopardy and it created a lot of controversy and it was unnecessary.

"Sooner or later, he's gonna have to run into me one way or the other. It's hard to respect guys that pose and do things like that."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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