Lewis calls case on-field motivation for '04

The trial for Jamal Lewis' drug conspiracy case is expected to begin later this summer, only weeks before the Baltimore Ravens open their season, according to the running back's attorney.

"If you asked me to bet, I'd say this case would be tried sometime in August," attorney Donald Samuel told the Baltimore Sun.

Patrick Crosby, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based U.S. attorney's office, declined to comment on a possible trial date.

The Ravens' regular season begins Sept. 12, with training camp opening July 30. Samuel had hoped prosecutors would agree to delay the trial until early 2005, but they declined the informal request, the Sun reported.

"We said to the prosecutor, 'Let's wait until the end of the season, so we're not rushed,' " Samuel said. "He said, 'We don't need that much time. We're not going to specially set it in February so he [Lewis] can finish the season.' "

Lewis addressed the media Monday, the first day of a mandatory minicamp in Owings Mills, Md., saying he is certain he will be cleared of the charges and insisting his pending trial has not hindered his preparation for the season.

"I am innocent. ... I'm very confident that my legal team will show I'm innocent," Lewis said.

Lewis ran for 2,066 yards last season, the second-highest total in NFL history, and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year as the Ravens won the AFC North title. He believes the accusations have motivated him in an effort to come up with an appropriate encore.

"I haven't missed a beat," he said. "Mentally, I've been good. I think it's made me madder, made me work harder."

Lewis, 24, and a childhood friend, Angelo Jackson, 26, are charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine, and using a cell phone in violation of federal law. Jackson is also charged with attempted cocaine possession.

Lewis, indicted in February, turned himself over to the FBI and was released on $500,000 bond. He has pleaded not guilty and has said he wants fans to know he is innocent. The charges are tied to a two-year-old cocaine and heroin ring that involved 22 defendants.

"We're prepared to deal with whatever circumstances [of a trial] are laid out," Ravens coach Brian Billick told The Sun. "We've talked about it organizationally. You'd prefer for it to happen at a certain time frame. [But] we have to respect the process. … We'll adapt to it."

The Ravens went through something similar during the 2000
season, when linebacker Ray Lewis had to deal with the aftermath of
a murder trial in Atlanta. Lewis, who pleaded guilty to obstruction
of justices charges, rebounded to lead Baltimore to victory in the
Super Bowl.

Billick said he does not believe the Jamal Lewis case will be a distraction, and he supported the running back's decision to address the media Monday despite concerns by the player's legal team.

"This is the appropriate time to discuss this because it's time
to go back to work," Billick said. "This is the first time that
this team has been together going into the 2004 season, and it's
time for Jamal to go back to work in a team atmosphere."

Billick said the team will work around his trial schedule in an
effort to keep him in the lineup. Kobe Bryant, in the midst of a
sexual assault case in Colorado, has a similar setup with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"We will put a specific structure to it once we find out
whether the trial is during the preseason or during the regular
season," Billick said. "Once we're given that time frame, then
we'll put the appropriate plan in (place) and adapt to it as we go."

Samuel told The Sun that the trial should not take longer than two weeks and Lewis would be eligible for release on bond pending sentencing "in the extraordinarily unlikely event he is convicted."

The trial is expected to center on an undercover government informant who taped conversations that she allegedly had with Lewis and Jackson in 2000.

If convicted, Lewis could face a mandatory prison term of at least 10 years if the alleged conspiracy is found to involve at least five kilograms of cocaine.

Lewis wondered why something that happened four years ago has turned into a serious drug charge.

"I was hoping that it might go away, hoping that it might
disappear," he said. "But being that you're in the spotlight and ... out there seen and noticed, I was sure it was going to come up
sooner or later. What better time than now?"

Lewis said he's spoken with Ray Lewis, who did not allow legal
issues to stop him from getting ready for another football season.

"I talk to him often," Jamal Lewis said. "He called me to let
me know everything's going to be all right and to keep my head up.
He's been there to support me the whole way."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.