Work in Sports
Lewis showdown at Ravens camp
This is the sixth in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King will e-mail from his annual NFL training-camp tour.
Tuesday, July 25
TEAM: Baltimore Ravens
SITE: Western Maryland University, in Westminster, is 30 miles and a world west of Baltimore. The campus has boys' and girls' soccer camps going on in full view of the Ravens' practice field, lending a nice Middle America air to the proceedings. (By the way, when is it going to get hot in the east? It's in the 70s today. Last week the Patriots coaches wore long sleeves to practice.)
PLAYER I SAW WHOM I REALLY LIKED: The first four passes I watched at the morning practice from rookie QB Chris Redman hit their targets, and not just in stride but in the middle of the numbers. I'll say now what I said before about Redman when his stock was plummeting in pre-draft tests after he ran a glacially slow time in the 40-yard dash: Accuracy wins in the NFL, and Chris Redman will eventually be a winning quarterback in this league because of just that. "How I ran at the scouting combine (5.1 seconds) cost me a couple million dollars," Redman told me after the morning practice. He slid from a low first-round prospect to the 75th overall selection, where Baltimore picked him in the third round. "But I think everything happens for a reason. I like it here." I told him the 49ers got down on him before the draft because he'd taken such a colossal beating at Louisville, and because doctors found a neck injury that had been caused by overzealous weightlifting. "I've heard that," he said, "and it's pretty ridiculous. My neck has never bothered me once in a game. But when that came up, I knew people were looking for a reason not to take me." The Ravens will be glad he slid.
THE FOOD: Nice. I needed a simple, easy lunch, and it's exactly what I got. The fare:
Tuna sandwich on a kaiser roll ... B+ Dill pickle slice ... B Mixed greens with carrots and cherry tomatoes (in a house Italian) ... B Cantaloupe ... B Aquafina ... S
The Ravens have a neat fat system in their cafeteria. I first saw this in Buffalo a few summers ago. There's a red dot on the foods with high fat content, a yellow dot for moderate fat, and a green dot for the low- or no-fat foods. I trust I low-fatted this one pretty well. The tuna was lean and delicious, though I like chunks of celery in mine. This tuna salad was naked.
OPINION/FACTOID THAT MIGHT BE INTERESTING ONLY TO ME: In between practices, coach Brian Billick gets on the Internet and calls up a site featuring the National Weather Service radar for greater Baltimore. "Gonna have good weather this afternoon," he said just after noon Tuesday, watching the sweep of radar show no precipitation within 100 miles.
Dear NFL Junkie:
The crowd of 500 or so in the roped-off bleachers cheered for new franchise back Jamal Lewis pretty boisterously Tuesday morning. Late in the two-hour practice, Ray Lewis and Bennie Thompson -- the defensive and special-teams leaders, respectively, of this nouveau contender -- met to discuss knocking the kid down a peg. This is the kind of hazing you see early in camps. "The crowd's over there cheering for Jamal," Thompson told me later, a slight smile coming to his face. "I told Ray, 'Either you get him or I get him. Send it special delivery.'"
So here came a full-bore play from scrimmage (contact but no tackling), first offense against first defense. And here came a screen pass, with Tony Banks letting the three-man blocking detail set up for Lewis, and here came the ball floating to Lewis.
"I love to screen," Billick told me later, "but I'd never screen regularly against this team. Because Ray Lewis will blow it up."
And here came Lewis, slicing between the blockers until he was running 40 miles an hour. When is a tackle not a tackle? When Ray Lewis crashes into you at full speed. He didn't use his arms. But when he crashed into Jamal, the poor former Tennessee Volunteer got knocked three yards back, right on his can.
"SPECIAL DELIVERY!" screamed Thompson from deep in the backfield.
"WOOOOO-WOOOOOOO!" hollered defensive linemen Rob Burnett and Sam Adams, mauling Lewis, knocking him to the ground.
I have not seen many hits like this in my training-camp visits -- and this guy didn't even use his arms.
Obviously Ray Lewis is a wanted man at Ravens' camp. How's he doing? What's his mindset? Can he put the trial and the double-murder charge behind him? Should he? He has drawn a line in the media sand. Talk football, fine. Talk anything outside of the football world, he walks away.
I don't blame him, I guess. He's not into the cleansing-of-the-soul-by-talking-about-it thing. He is into crediting Shannon Sharpe for his coming into camp in such phenomenal shape. "The best of my career," he said. "No doubt about it. We started in Atlanta [Sharpe's home] right after the bond hearing, and he drove me hard, him and his trainer. It was great. I've gotten to know Shannon over the years, and I've always liked him. I think me and Shannon were destined to be together at some point. I'm blessed he came into my life this offseason."
Now, about that hit on the rookie running back.
"I worked out with him some in Atlanta," Lewis said. "Laying a hit on him, I'll be doing that a lot here. We're a team, but when we're out on the practice field it's war. It has to be war."
I had the feeling it must feel pretty good for Lewis to pop someone now on the football field, after his legal and personal trials in Atlanta.
Check back soon for more postcards from camp. Next: St. Louis