Ray Lewis performs damage control

OWINGS MILLS -- Ray Lewis wasn't tackling, blitzing or fighting off blockers Wednesday at the Baltimore Ravens' training complex. Instead, the former All-Pro linebacker devoted his energy toward major damage control.

The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year acknowledged apologizing to teammates for his controversial televised remarks, denied a personal rift with coach Brian Billick and blamed reporters for allegedly misconstruing his remarks. Plus, the seven-time Pro Bowl selection denied ever requesting a trade and insisted he wants to finish his career in Baltimore.

"I'm not a perfect man," Lewis said during a 23-minute news conference. "So if I made a mistake, I'm going to apologize to my teammates from speaking from my heart. That was my apology because I spoke about something I probably shouldn't have spoken about."

Two months ago, Lewis griped that the Ravens didn't have the proper defensive scheme or large enough defensive linemen like Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams to allow him to run freely to the football. He said he envied other NFL linebackers.

"With the same defensive line I have now, I won Defensive Player of the Year," said Lewis, who described himself as the Michael Jordan of football during an ESPN interview. "It's not about pointing out one player on our team because as soon as I heard how everybody was taking it, I reached out to my teammates: ‘Look, man, don't ever believe everything you hear because it's truly not what it's supposed to be."

Lewis' comments offended defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, and were widely perceived as a veiled shot at nose guard Kelly Gregg, whose game is built around penetrating quickness not overpowering bulk. However, Gregg said Wednesday that he wasn't offended and confirmed receiving an apologetic phone call from Lewis.

"We're all frustrated because we haven't been to the playoffs in two years," Gregg said. "That plays tricks on your mind. It was no big deal from the get-go. He called all of us. Everything is fine."

Two months ago, Lewis issued a seemingly cryptic no comment when asked by Comcast SportsNet whether it was a positive that Billick was retained. Lewis said that he made it clear before the interview began that he wouldn't answer football-related questions, a point denied by Comcast.
"Me and Coach Billick have one of the peaceful relationships from player to coach because we have one goal, and that's the goal to help our team to always get better," Lewis said. "It's sad that people would pull out one thing and say, ‘This is what he said about Billick,' because it was nothing about Brian Billick."

Billick reiterated that no discord exists between himself and Lewis.

"I have no question in my mind, none, not a doubt, of his commitment to me, this organization and his team," Billick said. "Ray and I have sat and talked a number of times in the offseason about what Ray is dealing with right now, what's important to him, and I'm completely at ease."

The Ravens are in the midst of a two-year absence from the postseason. And they've won only one playoff game since winning the Super Bowl in 2001.

"I hate losing," Lewis said. "It wasn't about our quarterback situation. It wasn't about Brian Billick. It wasn't about our defense. It's about simply, ‘I'm not a loser.' Anytime you go through something we went through last year as an organization if we're satisfied with that, that's our fault."

Although general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti have previously acknowledged that Lewis demanded a trade, the linebacker said it never happened.

"It never came close that I went out to try to do that," Lewis said.

Six years ago, Lewis was staunchly defended by former majority owner Art Modell during a high-profile Atlanta trial where murder charges were dropped against Lewis and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge. While Modell nodded his head in approval, Lewis denied that he had forgotten who stood behind him.

"The person they said I was probably ungrateful to was Art Modell, and there's no greater love than me and him have for each other," Lewis said. "I may have been dead wrong for what I said - and if I am - then I apologized to the people I was supposed to apologize to, and that was my teammates.

"I've devoted my football career to my organization. Every time I walk out there, I walk with my city on my back."

Slated to be paid a $5.5 million this season and $6.5 million apiece in 2007 and 2008 when he'll conclude a seven-year, $50 million contract that included a $19 million signing bonus, Lewis denied that he's unhappy about his financial situation.

"Losing is the issue," Lewis said. "Contract has never been the issue. It's not about money, man, and it's never been about money. When I wake up at 6:30 in the morning, I don't call Steve [Bisciotti] and say, ‘I'm going to work out this morning and I'm going to need more money.' I wake up to be the best."

Lewis repeatedly admonished reporters for not speaking to him prior to publishing stories about his comments. Lewis hadn't done a group interview with local reporters since October.
"What I said was for me and my teammates. If no one can understand that, I won't address it again," he said. "There's no need because there's no relevance in me trying to explain to you all what you all will never understand. You all will never understand what we go through on a football field. Ever. Ever. The thing is, I can work with anybody here because my life is peaceful.
"But at the same time, I'm not going to keep digging up the same issues over and over. It's boring. I walk into a locker room to look my men in the eye and say, 'Look, let's go back to war. We didn't make it to the Super Bowl, we didn't make it to the playoffs. Let's go do what we need to do.' That's my obligation."
Lewis, who hasn't finished two of the last four seasons due to injuries, is recovering from hamstring surgery in December. He isn't practicing yet, but predicted he would likely be ready by the start of training camp.

"It's actually coming along great," he said.

Despite reports that he openly lobbied for a trade at this year's Pro Bowl, Lewis said he can't envision playing anywhere else as he enters his 11th season in Baltimore.

"Do I want to finish my career here?" Lewis said. "I've been a Raven for 11 years. Why would I want to go anywhere else? That's who I am. Just don't tell me to be OK with losing and mediocrity because I'm not going to be that way."

Aaron Wilson writes for Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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