Ravens' R. Lewis banking on a Super Bowl run

OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis struck a typically confident stance when the defending AFC North champions concluded their final minicamp.<br><br> The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year has targeted winning another Super Bowl title as his ultimate goal for this season. The Super Bowl will be held this year in Jacksonville, Fla.<br>

"If we talk about anything short of Jacksonville, we are shorting ourselves right now," Lewis said. "We have a three year span to keep this group together, so why not do it now? Everybody knows it. Jacksonville is the Super Bowl and that is what we are working for."

Besides Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher and Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis predictions that the Ravens will repeat as division champions, the majority of preseason publications echo those prognostications.

Baltimore, which finished 10-6 last season before losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Tennessee Titans, is banking that it has upgraded its offense enough to go along with the third-ranked defense in the league from last season.

After a nullified trade for All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens, the Ravens traded a fourth-round draft pick for veteran wideout Kevin Johnson and drafted Washington State receiver Devard Darling in the third round.

The team also hired former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel as a senior consultant. His chief responsibility during a one-year, part-time stint in Baltimore is to tutor quarterback Kyle Boller and help improve the second-year starter's mechanics and fundamentals.

The Ravens had the top-ranked rushing attack last season behind NFL Offensive Player of the Year Jamal Lewis' league-high 2,066 yards. However, they also had the lowest-ranked passing offense.

Johnson, who averaged 66 receptions in his first five seasons, will start at flanker opposite split end Travis Taylor, who had a disappointing 2003 campaign with 39 receptions.

Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap remains the team's most reliable downfield option.

After backup Anthony Wright underwent surgery to repair a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, the team hired former Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears starter Kordell Stewart to back up Boller. Stewart was the lowest-ranked passer in the league last year with a 56.8 rating, just ahead of Boller (62.4).

The team also signed former Pro Bowl cornerback Dale Carter to a one-year contract for the veteran minimum. Carter has committed five prior violations of the NFL substance-abuse policy.

"With the additions of Dale Carter, Kevin Johnson and Kordell Stewart, it brightens your day," Lewis said. "Just to see the competition out there, it makes it exciting to be a Raven right now."

Lewis, who intercepted a career-high six passes last season, was held out of minicamp drills as he recuperated from thumb surgery to repair a torn ligament.

Despite the thumb injury, Lewis declared himself to be in optimum condition as he enters his ninth season.

"I am excited for football again," Lewis said. "You get like a little kid when you go through setbacks. It makes you focus."

Yet, the Ravens have been tested by a tumultuous off-season.

Jamal Lewis was indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges in Atlanta and could go to trial before or during the season. 

Defensive back Corey Fuller faces felony gambling and firearm allegations in Florida and has been assigned an Aug. 23 court date. 

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, has been charged with two counts of felony aggravated assault in Phoenix. He has a Sept. 9 court date, three days before the Ravens open the season at the Cleveland Browns.

All three players have pleaded not guilty and are free on bond and allowed to travel anywhere in the United States.

"I think the beautiful thing about it is that we always have each others' back," Lewis said. "We don't worry about outsiders. That is what we live by. 

"We are a family. People are men, people are human and you are going to go through things. Deal with them and move on."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

Ravens Insider Top Stories