J. Lewis primed for opener

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- It has been two mostly frustrating seasons since Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis was named the NFL Offensive Player of the year. Now that he's nearly fully recuperated from a strained left hip flexor that sidelined him for the majority of the preseason, Lewis is banking on a rejuvenated campaign following the worst season of his career last year.

"I feel really good, I feel like I'm ready to go and ready for a lot of big things this season," Lewis said Monday as the Ravens renewed preparations for Sunday's season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "I went out there at practice and got a burst on my leg and was able to get in some good cuts. "It felt much better than it did the last few weeks. I think that's due to the rest. I think that I'm the healthiest I've been in a long time." Last season, Lewis was limited to a career-low 906 rushing yards, a 3.4 average per carry and three touchdowns. It was a season preceded by a four-month federal prison sentence for a cocaine conspiracy plea bargain and two months in a halfway house. He also underwent ankle surgery and had to rehabilitate from the injury while incarcerated. Since his 2,066-yard breakthrough season in 2003, Lewis has rushed for only a combined total of 1,912 yards. "Sometimes you have to put the past behind you," Lewis said. "I have to be myself and focus on my opportunities now, and you don't do that by dwelling on the past, good and bad." This season, the former Pro Bowl runner has a lot of quality depth behind him in terms of numbers whereas last season Chester Taylor was the primary backup. The Ravens kept seven running backs (five halfbacks) on the active roster, including veteran newcomer Mike Anderson and Musa Smith, who led the Ravens in rushing during the preseason. "We have so much depth now, and I think defenses know they have to face a good group of guys running the football," Lewis said. "They know we're going to run the football and that we have Steve McNair back there to throw the ball downfield. So, we should be have a balanced offense." Beginning Sunday, Lewis will find out how much explosiveness he has and how effective he'll be against savvy defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's famed Cover 2 scheme headlined by All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks. The Buccaneers' defense was ranked first in the league statistically last season. "They've got a fast linebacker corps where all of them can run well," Lewis said. "We have to match their tempo and execute our offense. Derrick Brooks is a hard-nosed linebacker and a great leader. You have to respect Derrick Brooks." Traveling to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa --- the site of the Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV victory over the New York Giants -- brings back warm memories for Lewis. He rushed for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants, gaining102 yards on 27 carries. "When I think about Tampa, I think about the Super Bowl and coming off the field with that win," Lewis said. "Hopefully, we can get off to a good start to the season and live up to the high expectations we have for this team. We want to show everyone that we're ready for the season." Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times.

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