Ravens' J. Lewis feels rejuvenated

OWINGS MILLS -- Jamal Lewis' forced exile from football is over, and the Baltimore Ravens' star running back appears rejuvenated after serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy. <br><br> The All-Pro runner's league-mandated suspension was prompted by his guilty plea Oct. 7 to using a cellular phone to attempt to facilitate a drug transaction as he resolved federal drug conspiracy charges.

"It was real hard, I really wanted to play against those guys," said Lewis prior to his first practice back with the Ravens. "I got a chance to watch from the outside looking in, and it was pretty tough because you want to get in there."
During his suspension, Lewis took out his frustration in strenuous workouts with a personal trainer. In a revision to league rules regarding suspended players, he was allowed to work out at the team's training complex. He wasn't allowed to attend practices or meetings, though.
Lewis said he feels fresher than he did at this point last season, having carried the football 105 times for 494 yards and four touchdowns. Without Lewis, the Ravens (4-3) went 1-1 as Chester Taylor and Musa Smith combined for 203 rushing yards.
"I had to serve my punishment, my suspension, but I feel it was for the better so I could get some rest," Lewis said. "I'm pretty fresh. My legs are good."
Now that the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year has returned, he's poised to run Sunday night against the Cleveland Browns. Lewis has thrived against Cleveland in the past with the exception of a season-low 57 yards on 20 carries in a 20-3 season-opening loss.
"They played some sound football," Lewis said. "They put their hats in the right places. It's not like they did something really amazing."
In seven career games against the Browns, Lewis has rushed for 1,100 yards and six touchdowns for a 6.9 average on 162 carries. That total includes his 295-yard game last September to shatter the NFL single-game rushing mark as he gained 500 yards in Baltimore's sweep of the Cleveland series last season.
Lewis rushed for nearly a fourth of his league-high 2,066 yards in 2003 against the Browns.
"I don't have anything to show them," Lewis said. "I just want to get back into the groove of things."
Lewis is breakaway threat who has posted a franchise-record 26 100-yard rushing games.
At 5-foot-11 and 245 pounds, he's also a burly downhill runner whose bulky body can knock out linebackers and defensive backs.
"Oh, he's coming," offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. "He watched the film this morning and he couldn't stop shaking his leg. I know he's ready. He's ready and he's focused."
Without Lewis, the Ravens still managed to produce a solid running game. With the last-ranked passing game in the NFL averaging merely 122.3 yards a game, Lewis' return is a godsend for the Baltimore offense.
"Any time you get a great athlete back, you're a better team," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I get a whole lot smarter when I've got really good athletes, I really do. I'm not really bright when I don't have good athletes."
The Ravens are 19-5 in the regular season when Lewis rushes for 100 yards or more. Thirteen of those performances have come against AFC North rivals.
"Jamal gives you another weapon, one that can score from anywhere on the field," nickel back Deion Sanders said.
Lewis, 25, still has the specter of four months of prison time and two months in a halfway house looming after the season, but his mind is on the Browns, not his brush with the legal system.
"That's the big thing, it's done with," Lewis said regarding his suspension. "I can put it behind me now and just move on with my job and do what I do best, that's coming out and play football and be with my team. That's why I'm happy it's behind me."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and ravensinsider.com

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