It hasn't been the smoothest offseason for the Baltimore Ravens. Running back Jamal Lewis was indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges in February. A trade for wide receiver Terrell Owens was nullified in March. Cornerback Corey Fuller was arrested and charged with running a gambling house in April.
But Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis -- the unquestioned leader of this team and no stranger to tumultuous offseasons himself -- said that he thinks the team has been able to handle the turmoil.
"I think the beautiful thing about us is that we always have each others' back," Lewis said on the last day of a four-day minicamp. "We don't worry about nothing outside of this organization. That is what we live by: If you can't find something to smile for, we'll smile for you. . . . People are men, people are human and you are going to go through things. Deal with them and move on. Come get away, be with your family."
Lewis did not practice during this minicamp because he didn't want to risk injuring his surgically repaired right thumb. But he said that the thumb didn't hinder his offseason weight training, and that he's in excellent condition.
The Ravens fielded the youngest team in NFL history in 2002 (19 first-year players on the opening day roster), and had the third-youngest team in the NFL last season.
"It's simple. . . . Our goal is Jacksonville [site of Super Bowl XXXIX]," Lewis said. "If we speak about anything other than Jacksonville, we're shorting ourselves right now. Our span is that we probably have about a three-year span left, to keep this core together, so why not do it now? Everybody knows it. That's the exciting part of it."
The Ravens' chances could hinge on the status of Jamal Lewis, who had the second-highest rushing total in NFL history last year, but whose case could go to trial as early as August. Ray Lewis, who dealt with the aftermath of a murder trial during the 2000 season, has offered advice to Jamal Lewis.
"Just the advice of truth, nothing else," Ray Lewis said. "Don't worry about man, put your trust in God. . . . Just keep your mind on football, keep your mind on your family, what you truly love, what you truly believe in. Everything else will be all right."
Lewis didn't have such kind words for Owens, who refused to report to Baltimore after the Ravens sent a second-round draft pick to San Francisco for him in March. Owens challenged the trade, which was eventually nullified. The 49ers sent Owens to Philadelphia, his first choice team, instead.
Lewis criticized Owens on "The Tim Brando Show" on Sporting News Radio last week, saying that Owens "is a man that went away from and against his word. . . . Sooner or later, he's gonna have to run into me one way or the other. It's hard to respect guys that pose and do things like that."
Baltimore will play the Eagles in the preseason (Aug. 20) and regular season (Oct. 31). Owens told the Philadelphia Daily News that "I'll be ready. They can say what they're going to do to me, this and that, it doesn't bother me. If they want to take all their frustration out on me, good. That means they're probably not going to be doing what they're supposed to be doing."
Lewis was asked about Owens's comments to a radio station about the Ravens seeking retaliation.
"It doesn't matter, red jersey, green jersey, purple jersey, whatever type of jersey you got on. We don't care about Terrell Owens," Lewis said. "We're not looking for him. We're coming to play the Philadelphia Eagles, anyway you want to look at it. Whether it's on Halloween or Christmas, it's still football and that's all it is. We don't care about him. I'm tired of talking about him. Who is he? Next question, please."