J. Lewis: 'I've proven what I can do'

OWINGS MILLS -- In Jamal Lewis' opinion, his meager production is merely a function of his reduced workload. And the Baltimore Ravens' former Pro Bowl running back believes he has an acute understanding of exactly why he'll carry the football even less for the remainder of the season as the Chester Taylor evaluation period commences.

Lewis didn't appear angry about the situation, taking more of a resigned stance that how his playing time is delegated is just like the football: out of his hands.

"I've proven what I can do, I know what I can do, everybody around knows what I can do," said Lewis, who has gained 508 yards with an average of 2.95 yards per carry. "This is not a let's see what Jamal Lewis can do thing. They know what I can do.

"Really, I see it as more of a Chester Taylor evaluation to see what he can do and see if he can carry the load. It doesn't hurt. If they want to see how he can do, I embrace him."

Because both players will be unrestricted free agents after the season and the Ravens (3-7) are out of the playoff hunt, the rotation has emerged as a major issue.

With Lewis two seasons removed from a 2,066-yard campaign, he's on pace for a career-low 812.8 yards. He's averaging 50.8 yards a game and hasn't eclipsed 100 yards.

Lewis' numbers could dip even more since Taylor is slated for increased snaps.

"If he's getting more carries or if he's getting more time, it doesn't bother me because I've proven what I can do," Lewis said. "The only thing that does is just keep me fresher and keep me going."

As for whether he'll be retained with a new contract or the franchise tag, which would pay him roughly $6.5 million in 2006, the 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year said he has no idea what will happen.

Whether it's because he underwent surgery on his right ankle in February or spent four months incarcerated in a federal prison and two months in a halfway house after pleading guilty to a cocaine conspiracy charge, Lewis isn't producing how he used to.

Lewis admitted this fall that he's concerned that an injury could ruin his market value.

"This thing is bigger than Jamal Lewis," Lewis said. "If you're a great player, things happen around contract time. It's funny. Everybody asks me why is there a drop-off in the last year of my contract. I don't know.

"I'm not going to let this outside stuff affect my passion for this game. I love this game. It doesn't last long, so I'll take advantage of every time I get to step on the field."

In the Ravens' 16-13 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Lewis was held to 28 yards on 13 carries with just three touches after halftime. Taylor ran for 59 yards on a season-high 19 carries and generated 186 all-purpose yards.

Lewis is averaging 17 carries after pounding ahead 24 times a game in 2003.

"This season, it's been a consistent 14-15 carries," Lewis said. "That's not enough for me to get what I need to get done. It's not enough for me to set a defense up and break those long runs in the third or fourth quarter like I've done in the past.

"If I had 20-plus carries a game, you'd see those 100-yard games. That's unquestionable. (In 2003), we did whatever we could to get this thing going. It was put the ball in my hands 20 to 25 times a game and get it rolling. Now, it's not like that. There's nothing I can do about it."

With the 213-pound Taylor averaging 4.5 yards per carry with 30 catches, he's regarded as a quicker, versatile threat. Lewis is a burly runner at 245 pounds, but his tackle-breaking and explosiveness isn't the same this year.

The Ravens' running game has slipped to 22nd overall, averaging 92.8 rushing yards.

"To a degree, the biggest advantage is you stay fresh and are able to tag-team the backs a little bit, especially late in the season," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

While Lewis is fairly outspoken, Taylor tends to be media-shy and rushed out of the locker room during the designated interview time.
Despite limited chances, Taylor has made a strong impression on his teammates.

"You have to always tip your hat to Chester," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "When he got his chance, he stepped in there and made big runs, made people miss. Jamal is a downhill guy, a power runner that can break free and go the distance.

"Chester is a shifty guy, more of a Barry Sanders type. To compare them is like trying to compare Michael Jordan and Shaq. One guy will back you down and the other will shoot jumpers."

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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