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Ravens experience life without Jamal Lewis

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) - The Baltimore Ravens learned what it's like to run their offense without Jamal Lewis.

It was only a practice session, and the team was certain that Lewis would be back in pads Friday and in the backfield Sunday night against the Washington Redskins.

But it probably won't be long before the Ravens are forced to play a game without their most potent offensive weapon.

Lewis spent Thursday in federal court in Atlanta, where he pleaded guilty to using a cell phone to facilitate a drug transaction. So his teammates began preparing for the Redskins without him.

"Obviously, Jamal is going to be a little bit behind with our base package," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "But he's a smart kid. He'll be back, he'll get the playbook, he'll get the film to watch from practice today, and he'll get caught up pretty quick. I'm not that worried about it."

Lewis, who ran for 2,066 yards a year ago, probably won't begin serving his prison sentence until the offseason. But he will almost certainly receive a suspension of at least two games from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

"Jamal made a mistake when he was 20, over four years ago," Ravens president Dick Cass said in a statement. "The Jamal we all know would not make this mistake today. We will continue to support and believe in him. He has admitted his mistake and is prepared to move on.

"We understand that Jamal is also subject to discipline by the NFL. We know that the commissioner will look thoroughly at all the circumstances surrounding Jamal's admission. We will accept whatever the commissioner decides."

Said Cavanaugh: "We'll see what the league decides, and if we don't have him for a period of time, then just like any other distraction, you've got to deal with it."

If that time comes, the Ravens will handle loss of Lewis in the same fashion they've treated the absence of wide receiver Travis Taylor (groin injury), center Mike Flynn (shoulder) and tight end Todd Heap (ankle).

"Look at what we've gone through already," said Casey Rabach, who took over for Flynn. "Travis Taylor down, Mike Flynn down, Todd Heap out. It's just another one to add to the pile. We've responded well.

"If he's here, great. If he's not, he's not," Rabach added. "Obviously we're totally behind Jamal. We've got his back. But we'll run with what we've got."

That would be Chester Taylor and Musa Smith, both of whom moved up a notch on the depth chart for Thursday's session. Taylor has shown that he can be a capable NFL back; during the second week of the season against Pittsburgh he gained 76 yards rushing on only nine carries.

"He's a great back, and so is Musa," Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. "I think they can hold the job down until Jamal gets back. When one guy goes down, another guy has to pick it up."

Quarterback Kyle Boller usually spends his time on Sundays handing the ball to Lewis, but Thursday he turned around to see either Taylor or Smith in the backfield.

"It's different," said Boller, who didn't expect Lewis to be hindered by missing just one day of practice.

"You'd like him to be out there," Boller said, "but people miss practice all the time for different reasons. Whatever happens to Jamal, hopefully he'll be back soon. But we have three running backs I think any team would like to have as starters, and we're just going to have to make it work."

Lewis is more than merely a teammate to many of the Ravens. Linebacker Ray Lewis considers him to be a close friend, and expressed more concern with the impact the case would have on the running back than what his absence would mean to the team.

"We're just going to keep him in our prayers and let him take care of himself," Ray Lewis said.

In other news, nickelback Deion Sanders expressed optimism that his strained left hamstring would heal enough to enable him to return from a two-week absence to face the Redskins, the last team he played for before abruptly retiring before the start of training camp in 2001.

Sanders said he quit because he didn't want to start anew under coach Marty Schottenheimer. He had nothing against Schottenheimer, but figured the Redskins couldn't win immediately under those circumstances.

"I was too old to start over. You went there to win it all, and now you're going to start over?" Sanders said Thursday. "You know you're not going to win it all that year, when you're bringing in a new coach."

The Redskins went 8-8 that season and fired Schottenheimer. They are 1-3 under coach Joe Gibbs.

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