ATLANTA - Jamal Lewis won’t let a November trial date in Atlanta hinder his bid to successfully defend his NFL rushing title and carry the Baltimore Ravens back to the playoffs.
Lewis ran for 2,066 yards last season, the second-highest total in league history. He set several records along the way, including a 295-yard rushing effort against the Cleveland Browns that shattered the NFL single-game mark.
He gained only 14 yards on six carries Thursday night in Baltimore’s preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, shortly after learning that his drug conspiracy trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 1. He insisted that his slow start had nothing to do with his pending court case.
“I was a little rusty,” he said.
The trial is set to start one day after the Ravens play in Philadelphia and six days before a meeting with the Browns, against whom Lewis ran for a whopping 500 yards in two games last year.
Lewis believes he won’t miss any playing time because of the trial, and was relieved to know that his time in court will happen this year. Charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine and using a cell phone in violation of federal law, he has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
“I wanted it to happen sooner than later. For me, I just want to get it out of the way,” Lewis said. “It’s set for November, and that’s when we have to handle it. I have a long season ahead of me and we will handle it as it comes along. That is the only thing we can really do.”
Ravens coach Brian Billick isn’t quite sure whether Lewis will be able to handle the logistics of traveling back and forth from Atlanta to Baltimore, but he knows the running back won’t be bothered by the mental aspect of standing trial.
After all, Billick said, Lewis learned of the charges long before they were made public and still managed to exceed 2,000 yards rushing while lifting Baltimore to the AFC North title.
“He dealt with this mentally all last year. He knew this was pending, the court situation,” Billick said. “So if anybody’s prepared to deal with it, it’s Jamal. And based on what I’ve seen, his mind seems to be right, and he’ll do just that.”
It’s probably too early to determine if the trial will hinder the Ravens’ quest to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 2001.
“That’s pretty far into the future to look at and get distracted,” tight end Todd Heap said. “That’s Jamal’s thing, but we all have to deal with it together.”
The Ravens — and Lewis — have yet to set up a plan that would enable him to simultaneously stand trial and be prepared to play on Sundays.
“We will deal with it when that week and that month come along,” Lewis said. “We will handle it accordingly.”
If Lewis can’t play, the starting job will likely be shared by Musa Smith and Chester Taylor. Smith gained 26 yards on 14 carries in Baltimore’s 24-0 rout of the Falcons, and Taylor ran for a team-high 47 yards on seven carries, twice making first downs on third-down runs.
But neither player has the explosiveness or quickness of Lewis, who plans to keep Smith and Taylor on the bench.
“I will be here,” Lewis declared. “That’s all I can tell you.”
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