J. Lewis: 'I didn't want to come back'

OWINGS MILLS -- Jamal Lewis' stance resembled a departed, unsentimental executive more than an NFL running back who became disgruntled with his old football team. Lewis expressed virtually no hard feelings about his offseason divorce from the Baltimore Ravens other than acknowledging a sour taste about the offense morphing from a smash-mouth running game into a pass-oriented approach.

Lewis didn't spend time reminiscing about his Super Bowl ring or his seven years in Baltimore. Nor did he spout regrets about leaving Baltimore and becoming the centerpiece of the Cleveland Browns' rushing offense.

Lewis being Lewis, though, the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year couldn't help spicing up this impending encounter with a few familiar barbs at Ravens coach Brian Billick.

Plus, the outspoken former All-Pro runner threw down a blunt challenge to the Ravens' vaunted defense.

"It's not just because I know the scheme, but because I know the personnel and the players," Lewis said Wednesday during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "I know what they do best, I know what they don't do best. I think that kind of gives me a little bit of an edge. "They're still a hard-nosed defense. I think they're going to play me a little different than they play any other running back."

When All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis heard what Lewis said about knowing the Ravens' weaknesses, it brought out the competitiveness in the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"If he touches the football, it's going to be more than one person hitting him," Ray Lewis said. "Jamal knows there are no weaknesses. You can pretend there's a weakness if you want to run at our corners and our secondary.

"Jamal knows who he has to deal with. So if there's a weakness, tell him to come and find it. We'll be waiting for him Sunday when we get there."

Lewis, who set the NFL single-game rushing record with 295 yards against the Browns in 2003 en route to a 2,066-yard campaign that marks the second-highest total in league history, made it clear that he felt he had nothing to prove to the Ravens.

Browns coach Romeo Crennel has watched a lighter, quicker Lewis -- he was down to 238 pounds during training camp after playing at over 250 pounds in Baltimore the past few years -- rush for 215 yards on 28 carries in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He was held to 56 yards on 15 carries in a loss to the Oakland Raiders last weekend, and gained just 35 yards to open the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Crennel is of firm belief that Lewis will be fiercely determined to prove the Ravens made a mistake when they cut him Feb. 28 rather than pay him a $5 million roster bonus.

"He kind of felt like he was on the outs down there and now he definitely has something to prove," Crennel said of Lewis, the NFL's third-leading rusher with 307 yards. "So, he got in great shape. He reported to training camp and had a burst.

"He's showing some of the same type of ability that he did early in his career. Deep down, I think he would like to have a career-type game."

One week after Lewis was cut, he signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Browns after bypassing the Ravens' one-year, $2 million offer. If he triggers incentive clauses, he can earn $5 million this season.

"I really didn't want to come back honestly," Jamal Lewis said. "It was more of a business move. You could tell that I didn't fit into that scheme anymore because of what Billick wanted to do and the offense he wanted to run.

"It was no hard feelings. It was the fact that I'm a runner and I like to be utilized in many different ways and it wasn't happening there."

Lewis emphasized that he isn't angry at Billick even though he pointedly criticized his game plans over the past few years and memorably said that there was no direct communication with the coach at times during the 2005 season.

"I have nothing against him, but it kind of leaves a sour taste in your mouth a little bit when you don't really fit into this offensive scheme anymore and you're trying to do something else," said Lewis, the Ravens' all-time leading rusher with 7,801 yards and 45 touchdowns. "I knew what kind of direction Billick was trying to go with the offense and I didn't fit that scheme. It was the year before when I was really ready to leave."

Under a one-year contract last season, Lewis rushed for 1,132 yards.

He slumped to a career-low 906 yards in 2005 after serving four months in federal prison and two months in a halfway house as the sentence for pleading guilty in October 2004 in a federal cocaine conspiracy trial.

Lewis admitted he basically returned strictly for the money last year.

"For $6 million, yeah, I would have signed back with them," Lewis said.

And he had absolutely no intentions of returning this season.

"I wasn't really trying to work anything out," Lewis said. "I was ready to go. It was just really, 'What team am I going to be with?'"

Apparently, the Browns were more than ready, too. Lewis hinted strongly that the Browns jumped the gun prior to the free agent signing period in March.

"It was really as soon as the season was over before they released me," Jamal Lewis said. "I kind of put my agent out on the feelers. As far as Cleveland, they were really the first choice."

When asked who made contact first, he replied: "I don't know if I'm able to answer that question because of the timing that it was, so I'm just going to leave that blank."

After helping Baltimore win a Super Bowl during the 2000 season as a rookie after being drafted fifth overall out of Tennessee, Lewis missed the entire 2001 season with a major knee injury in a major blow to the team's repeat aspirations.

But Lewis' career was clearly on a downward spiral after averaging less than four yards per carry for the past two years with declining ability to break tackles and long runs, and that prompted the Ravens to end their relationship with him.

"We made an organizational decision of what's available, what was the money and who else was out there," Billick said. "Willis McGahee came to the market and we felt like that was something worth pursuing and we did and we're thrilled to have Willis.

"It's kind of standard operating procedure. Anytime someone leaves someplace, I don't know if that's an easy thing to do. I certainly understand the anxiety of it."

Standing a few feet in front of Ray Lewis during an interview, wide receiver Derrick Mason finished answering a question about Jamal Lewis with a taunting addendum.

"As long as he doesn't score a touchdown," Mason said. "As long as he doesn't run over Ray, we'll be all right."

Ray Lewis scoffed at that joking notion, and offered a prediction for Sunday: The two unrelated stars named Lewis are about to collide.

"The bottom line is he's not a Raven anymore," Ray Lewis said. "He's a Brown. When the ball is snapped, he's got to be hit. That's no secret."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Ravens Insider Top Stories