Ray Lewis Exudes Passion, Confidence

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis talks passionately about his desire to win and trying to create a better team atmosphere this year. Vikings fans will get a chance to see if his leadership is effective Friday night.

Playing his first game in 10 months, linebacker Ray Lewis appeared stronger and faster than last season despite having a torn hamstring repaired in December.

"When you go through surgery, everyone looks at the pain," said Lewis, who missed the final 10 games because of that injury and was inactive for the preseason opener. "They don't look at the recovery and how much your body rests."

Endurance has become an issue with Lewis, who has failed to finish two of the past four seasons.

But the 31-year-old linebacker said he will play beyond his current contract, which goes through the 2008 season. In fact, Lewis expects to play past the age of 35.

"I don't believe I have played my best football," said Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "That's what is so exciting for me. I'm chasing a legacy and history of being the greatest defensive player to ever have walked onto a football field. Until I'm done with that, that's when I'll let it go."

In addition to his hamstring, Lewis has been mending his relationships with fans and teammates.

After every training camp practice, he signed countless autographs and talked with fans. But Lewis said he doesn't have to win any fans back because he never lost them in the first place.

"If a true fan has followed me, they know I have one huge problem — I can't control my passion when we're losing," Lewis said. "Do we realize that I'm not going to be playing for 30 years? I'm not an owner. My window (to win another Super Bowl) isn't that long."

The rejuvenation of the Ravens this summer has started with Lewis.

The seven-time Pro Bowl performer is constantly smiling and singing while walking around training camp, trying to reconnect with his teammates every day.

When first-round draft pick Haloti Ngata signed his contract, one of the first phone calls he received came from Lewis. During warm-ups for the preseason opener, Lewis was out on the field in street clothes, slapping hands and yelling out words of encouragement.

In the middle of training camp, Lewis and a couple other teammates brought back the annual bowling outing that was canceled last year due to lack of interest. This year, more than 40 players attended the event.

"Ray and I have talked about this a lot. We feel it's very important for a team to have a family-type atmosphere," tight end Daniel Wilcox said.

Lewis wants to rally his teammates together with a goal: Forget about the mistakes of the past and focus on the future.

"It's almost like in 2000, when the offseason was kind of crazy. When everybody is talking about this other stuff, let's put our mind on Miami (host of the Super Bowl)," Lewis said. "What I'm trying to tell them is we've always got to be one mind. If you go outside of that, it'll show up on game day. It's my job — because I've been a part of a championship team — to understand what it takes when you speak about chemistry."

Instead of being a leader last season, Lewis took the opposite approach. He seemed to be less vocal with teammates and made a habit of sitting alone on the bench during games.

Asked why he withdrew from the team last year, Lewis said, "Because I didn't like a lot of things." Refusing to single anyone out, Lewis said he was frustrated by how some players didn't properly study, work out and communicate.

"Everything reverts back to losing, one way or another," he said. "If that's going wrong off the field, what makes you think it's going to click when we step on the field?"

The tumultuous 6-10 regular season spilled over to the spring, when Lewis criticized the team's defensive scheme and not-so-massive defensive tackles on national TV.

Lewis has since apologized to his teammates for his comments.

"I go through frustrations," Lewis said. "I make mistakes. I'm not inhuman."

While Lewis has been promoting a team atmosphere, he still wants to return to individual pre-game introductions, which are capped by his traditional gyrating dance.

The Ravens had planned on sticking with a team introduction for the entire season, but fans and players alike gave it a lukewarm reception at the preseason opener. Team officials said they likely will return to announcing individual starters because there has been a groundswell of support from players to do so.

"My teammates look for that," Lewis said of the dance. "It says this is our battle line. This is our general. And we follow. When I come out, that's the mind-set."

NOTES

  • OT Jonathan Ogden was activated off the physically unable to perform list and is expected to play the third preseason game.

  • WR Clarence Moore was activated off the physically unable to perform list and is expected to play the third preseason game.

  • RB Jamal Lewis will miss the final two preseason games as a precautionary measure. He re-injured his hip in the second preseason game. Mike Anderson will start for Lewis over the next two weeks.

  • RB Mike Anderson will start the last two preseason games because the Ravens are sitting Jamal Lewis (hip) as a precautionary measure.

  • SS Dawan Landry continues to work with the first-team defense and appears to have the edge for the only undecided starting job on defense.

  • WR Derrick Mason re-connected with his old quarterback Steve McNair. In the second preseason game, Mason had seven catches for 72 yards in one half of work.


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