R. Lewis: 'Football is on the back burner'

OWINGS MILLS -- Ray Lewis' grief overrode any desire to talk about football as the Baltimore Ravens' middle linebacker confined his remarks to reflections on the death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor. Taylor was shot earlier this week in his Miami home, and his murder is being investigated as a homicide by law enforcement authorities.

Lewis, who's preparing for Monday night's game against the New England Patriots, described himself as a mentor to Taylor, a fellow former University of Miami star.

"Guys, I understand the magnitude of this game with the Patriots coming in, but the bottom line is I was more than a friend to Sean Taylor," Lewis said Thursday in the Ravens' locker room. "I was someone he definitely looked up to. It's unfortunate that situations happen like this, but when they do some things pull you away from everything else that everybody wants you to worry about. This right here is life, and it doesn't change.

"Once it's gone, it's gone. For me as a man, there's a lot that I'm going through right now that I have to ask God for my strength and my faith to keep pushing on through life and keep encouraging young men to do the right things. To think of anything else outside of trying to find a way to really deal with my personal feelings would be very selfish of me to even try to comment on anything. As a man, I would ask for your guys' sympathy just to understand that it's a very challenging time."

Baltimore free safety Ed Reed, who attended Miami along with Ravens running back Willis McGahee, declined an interview request.

And when McGahee was asked what he intended do to honor Taylor's memory, he replied: "I don't want to talk about that."

But Lewis did. Although he didn't take questions, he spoke at length about Taylor and offered his perspective.

"You don't lose a 24-year-old kid with that much promise in life, it makes you take a step back," Lewis said. "If anything, the game is going to take care of itself. I'm just going to get through this week and hopefully help a lot of my teammates get through this week as well as a lot of the Hurricane family."

In a conference call later Thursday with New England reporters, Lewis expanded on his remarks and said: "Football is kind of on the back burner."

The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year also referenced the murder of his friend Marlin Barnes, a former Miami linebacker who was bludgeoned to death one week prior to Baltimore selecting Lewis in the first round of the 1996 NFL draft.

"I will tell you that because it took me back to when my roommate got killed, it's just a lot of things that brought up a lot of old wounds," Lewis said. "The energy to talk, I'd be lying, trying to create something that isn't real right now because it's a very emotional time for me.

Football is really the last thing on my mind." INJURY UPDATE: Cornerback Chris McAlister (strained knee), linebacker Jarret Johnson (fractured thumb), and tight end Todd Heap (strained hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis.

McAlister, who has missed four of the past five games, seemed to move around fairly well. Johnson wore a cast to protect the thumb on his right hand. It was Heap's first practice in nearly two weeks.

Wide receiver Demetrius Williams (high-ankle sprain) appeared to do some drills, but the team said he didn't practice on its official injury report.

Overall, the Ravens seem to be at their healthiest since the season-opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"That would be a good group to take up against this very good New England team," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It would be nice to have all hands on deck."

Safety Gerome Sapp (hamstring) returned to practice, participating fully.

Meanwhile, linebacker Gary Stills (knee), McGahee (ankle) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained toe) were limited.

Offensive tackle Jared Gaither (illness) didn't practice.

Cornerback Ronnie Prude missed the beginning of practice for family reasons.

Patriots running back Kevin Faulk (thigh) didn't practice again, and safety Eugene Wilson (groin) was downgraded to practicing on a limited basis.

OFF-LIMITS: Lewis declined to elaborate on his verbal feud with Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas. The two former teammates have settled their differences over the phone, according to Thomas.

"I just lost one of my closest friends and we're talking about me and Adalius? Wow, I don't understand that and that's why I didn't want to have this conversation," Lewis said. "I don't understand that. I've never played against A.D. I'm not going to play against A.D..

"To try to relive something like that when someone loses their life and we're trying to relive gossip, I don't have energy for it. If I could just play football and deal with my boy's death and get through this week, I'm good because this really shows you that's really not important if that's what everybody else wants to talk about."

QUICK HITS: Billick had a bemused reaction to the Patriots being favored by 20.5 points. "Wow, sounds like a good bet," he said. "I'm not a better, I don't know how all that works. Is it a Ouija board or some monkey pointing at a board with a dart? Is it something like that?" When asked if he had ever coached such a heavy underdog, Billick replied: "We played Nebraska when I was at Utah State one time and that was probably about the point spread, but we weren't at home." Added wide receiver Derrick Mason: "To hell with the 20 points." ... Linebacker Bart Scott wore a hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head, imitating Patriots coach Bill Belichick's wardrobe and dour mannerisms as he answered questions in a monotone voice with as little fanfare as possible.

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

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