Life is Good for Lewis


Entering the Ravens' first mandatory minicamp this weekend, there could have been a lot of distractions for Ray Lewis.

The second draft pick in franchise history is embarking on a season where he must adjust to a new head coach, help ease in a rookie dubbed the "quarterback of the future" and deal with impending free agency.

But as he stepped on a soggy practice field Friday afternoon, Lewis knew it was all about football, and everything else will fall into place.

"The bottom line is whatever we're trying to do as a team, that's the focus on where we're trying to stay as a team," he said. "If we keep that team concept there then the team concept stays there. So, if you go out talking about an individual – what I want to do – it means nothing. There's so much we have to do as a team to get better from last year and teach all of these young guys what not to do and what to do.

"I'm just excited to be back playing football all over again."

Lewis, 32, first met John Harbaugh on April 17 at the initial voluntary minicamp. Facing a transition from an environment perceived as veteran-friendly to Harbaugh's stricter practice demands caused many pundits to question Lewis' acceptance of a new regime, but the relationship between player and coach is only strengthened by a mutual admiration.

Lewis appreciates Harbaugh's seemingly endless enthusiasm and intensity, shown Friday as the coach moved from group to group to interact with each position.

"His energy is incredible; he loves football," Lewis noted. "He's running around most of the time always teaching almost as much as your position coach does. It was kind of exciting out there. I just love the tempo.

"Change is always good. Any time you go through change you look for the bad things to come in, but when you have someone who really relates to the players the way John does, I just think practice is going great."

From Harbaugh's standpoint, he is looking for many young Ravens to fall in step with Lewis' emphasis on building a team, a standard he's preached since being hired in January.

"I was most impressed with his love for the game," Harbaugh said of the defensive leader. "The guy really likes football. He loves coming to practice; he loves being in meetings. For a guy who's been playing football as long as he has, that's pretty refreshing to see."

Lewis was also quick to tout the Ravens' first-round draft pick Joe Flacco, who is competing with Kyle Boller and Troy Smith for a starting quarterback position. It was Flacco's first day in the locker room, but Lewis is already looking forward to working with the rookie.

In a post-practice interview, Flacco admitted that he was still "getting used to having Ray Lewis come into the locker room," and made his way to Lewis after the media dispersed - if not a little wide-eyed at approaching a hero.

Lewis said he appreciates the 23-year-old signal-caller's low-key and determined demeanor, and hopes Flacco can live up to the expectations that led Baltimore to select him 18th overall.

"I've been playing with him and messing around with him, and his personality is incredible," Lewis explained. "If you watch the guy on film, and you watch the guy outside the film room, he's just a great person overall.

He is cautiously optimistic that Flacco's 41 touchdown passes - and only 15 interceptions - in two years at Division I-AA Delaware can translate to success in the big leagues.

"We'll find out, sooner or later, how good he's going to be as a quarterback," Lewis said.

Perhaps the biggest buzz surrounding Lewis at the moment is his contract situation. The nine-time Pro Bowler is facing the possibility of becoming a free agent for the first time in his career.

The Ravens have been negotiating with Lewis, who is coming off a 184-tackle campaign, but the two sides have yet to come to an agreement.

Whether that comes or not, Lewis maintains that contract talks won't interfere with his play, leadership, or commitment.

"Once you ask me if I'm getting up in that side of things, you lose your passion about why you play this game," he said. "I've never got caught up in that. If anybody has ever bothered to check with my career, everybody knows there has never been a camp where I've held out, there's never been a contract problem with me."

In fact, there doesn't seem to be any problems with Lewis. He is healthy after suffering a hand injury that ended his 2007 season early, he sees an offense with potential and he loves this rejuvenated coaching staff.

"There was one Super Bowl champion at the end of last year and that was the New York Giants – bottom line," Lewis said, flashing a bright smile. "So, we have to come back, and I think everybody has that same mentality of 'here we go again.' It's a new season, new era."

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