-- Jamal Lewis, like the rest of his Baltimore Ravens teammates, returned to work Monday morning when the team gathered for the first practice of a four-day mandatory minicamp. But Lewis had an extra responsibility before he could take the field.
The all-pro running back addressed the media for the first time since being indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges in Atlanta in late February, saying that he is not guilty and that his pending trial will not interfere with his preparations for the upcoming season.
"I am confident," said Lewis, flanked by team president Dick Cass and by Coach Brian Billick. "I am working hard and preparing for the season. I will be here. I haven't missed a beat in my workouts and everything I'm doing."
Lewis and Angelo Jackson, a friend of Lewis's, were charged with conspiring to possess, with the intent to distribute, five kilograms of cocaine and using a cell phone in violation of federal law. The indictment stemmed from an incident that took place in the summer of 2000, just before Lewis's rookie season. Lewis said he wasn't surprised by the charges.
"I knew it would come up sooner or later," Lewis said. "What better time than now? Other than that, I was hoping that it might go away and just disappear. Being that you are in the spotlight and you are out there, I was sure that it would come up sooner or later."
Lewis, 24, ran for 2,066 yards last season, the second-highest total in NFL history, and was named the league's offensive player of the year. He said that the 2,000-yard season is the past, and that he is looking forward to having another good season. The charges did not affect his offseason training, he said, other than to motivate him.
"Mentally, I have been good," said Lewis. "It has made me madder, made me work harder and has given me some drive while I am working out."
Lewis's Atlanta-based attorneys, Edward Garland and Donald Samuel, have advised him not to speak to the media until after the trial. However, Lewis and the Ravens felt that it was better to address questions now, rather than allow them to become an ongoing distraction. Lewis did not answer any questions regarding specific details about the case.
A phone message left at Samuel's office was not returned. The trial could begin as early as August, according to published reports.
Should it overlap with the Ravens' regular season -- which begins Sept. 12 in Cleveland -- Lewis said that he thought it would be possible to go from the trial to the games. Billick said that the team will make an effort to work around Lewis's schedule, while being respectful of the legal process.
"We will have to put in a specific structure to that once we do indeed know that is the case," Billick said. "Whether it is preseason or during the regular season, once we are given that time frame, then we will put the plan in place and adapt to it as we go."
This isn't the first time the Ravens have faced a potential off-field distraction such as this. During the 2000 season, Ray Lewis had to deal with the repercussions of a murder trial in Atlanta; he ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice in exchange for the murder charge being dropped.
"I talk to [Ray Lewis] often," Jamal Lewis said. "He calls me and just lets me know that everything is going to be all right, keep my head up. He has been through it, and if I need any advice, [I] just talk to him."
The Ravens face another potentially distracting legal issue stemming from the arrest of cornerback Corey Fuller in April. He was charged with running a gambling house in Tallahassee, a third-degree felony offense, and later was charged with the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and with misdemeanor gambling.
Fuller has said he is innocent, and he said Monday that he wanted to apologize to his teammates and fans, and that he feels that he hurt the organization's name. He said he intends to move out of Tallahassee, the city in which he grew up.
Billick said the team is taking the same approach to both Fuller's and Lewis's situations.
"There's nothing we can do to impact the process," Billick said. "We have to understand it. Whether it's Jamal, whether it's Corey, whether it's Terrell Suggs [who has a Sept. 9 court date in Arizona to face two counts of felony assault stemming from a March 2003 incident], I have a tremendous amount of faith in the characters of those individuals. That's where my confidence is based."
Ravens Notes: Cornerback Chris McAlister was not in attendance because of a contract issue. McAlister has been designated as the team's franchise player, and is slated to make $7.1 million this season, but he has not signed the one-year tender. He reportedly is seeking a long-term deal. "Yeah, we want him here," Billick said. "His teammates want him here. He probably wants to be here, but there's contractual issues that he feels he has to deal with." . . . Linebacker Ray Lewis (thumb) did not participate in practice as a precautionary measure. . . . Cornerback Dale Carter, a 12-year veteran, practiced with the team for the first time after signing a one-year contract Friday. . . . Linebackers coach Mike Singletary was absent because of the death of his mother. . . . The mandatory minicamp ends Thursday. The Ravens will hold a voluntary four-day minicamp starting Monday.