Jamal Lewis off to a strong start - more camp news

WESTMINSTER -- Jamal Lewis shuffled cautiously to his left, studied his blocking and busted through the middle as he was untouched in his first carry since being released from prison. The Baltimore Ravens' star running back didn't display his usual explosiveness Wednesday, which is understandable considering it was his first practice back in pads following an offseason of legal turmoil.

Lewis took part in a few snaps of team drills and didn't take any contact work after being removed from the physically unable to perform list.

The 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year was incarcerated for four months in federal prison and served two months in a halfway house after pleading guilty to using a cellular phone to arrange a cocaine deal.

"He looked fresh, which is what you would expect after not being here for the first week," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Lewis, who was limited to a career-low 1,006 yards last season as he dealt with his legal problems and injuries. "We'll just continue to push him through it and put him through his paces and see if we can get him to that next level of conditioning."

After reporting at a lean 240 pounds, it's also a matter of Lewis regaining the timing and power that allowed him to rush for 2,066 yards – the second-highest total in league history – in 2003.

"I've had great seasons every year since I've been with the Ravens, and that should continue," Lewis said. "Being that I've got this off my back, I don't think I'll do anything less."

The Ravens are taking a careful approach with Lewis and will hold him out of their first preseason game Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons. It's more likely he could see action Aug. 20 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It was nice to have your No. 1 horse back there, the guy that's going to get you 2,000 yards," center Mike Flynn said. "He actually ran a few plays and gave us more than I thought he would."

Lewis, 25, has been medically cleared, passing his physical after undergoing surgery on his right ankle this winter.

"Jamal looks like he's in shape and is prepared considering his offseason circumstances," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "He wants to play football and put everything behind him. Now, he can actually strap it on and nothing is holding him back."

TRAINING ROOM: A day after hyperextending his right knee, linebacker Adalius Thomas remains relieved that it wasn't a serious injury.

With a limp that has improved markedly, Thomas hopes to begin running again today.

Thomas didn't forecast when he'll return to practice and won't play Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons. Thomas did express confidence that he'll be available for the Sept. 11 season-opener against the Indianapolis Colts.

"I was very scared," Thomas said. "The first thing that went through my head was, ‘Dang, I'm going to need a year of rehab,' because of the way it felt. It's the best sprain I've ever had, because it's not a tear."

The injury initially looked severe as Thomas moaned in pain and had to be helped off the field.

"Obviously, we dodged a major bullet there," Billick said. "He seems to be doing fine."

TIME OFF: In the latest vacation for a headliner, All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis was granted a day off. Jim Nelson took his place as the defensive signal-caller.

"Yeah, it was his turn," Billick said. "He's had a good camp, he looks good and fresh so it was a good day to sit him back."

Meanwhile, nickel back Deion Sanders, fullback Alan Ricard and cornerback Chris McAlister returned to practice.

The entire team is getting an extremely abbreviated training camp because there are no more two-a-day sessions as Billick has canceled the remaining two-a-days. The team will run a walkthrough in the mornings at McDaniel College, but not a full practice.

PERSONNEL MOVES: To make room for Lewis on the roster, the team waived wide receiver Derek Abney.

Abney was a seventh-round pick who missed all of last season with a dislocated shoulder after he was drafted to be the team's return specialist.

Baltimore signed third-year linebacker Steve Josue, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound 2003 seventh round pick of the Green Bay Packers. Josue played in four games for Green Bay last season and recorded seven tackles.

The Ravens confirmed that they waived wide receiver Tommy Manus with an injury settlement earlier this week. Rookie defensive tackle Gary Gibson, who injured his foot on the first day of practice, is no longer listed on the roster.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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