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Lewis Joins Team, Friends Innocent

Shannon Sharpe caught a short pass and took one step before Ray Lewis tossed the former All-Pro tight end to the ground.

"I knew he was going to be there, but I didn't expect him to tackle me," Sharpe said with a grin.

Back in uniform Monday for the first time since standing trial on murder charges, Lewis had a wonderful time joking and competing with his teammates on the Baltimore Ravens.

"It's a moment I knew was coming," he said. "It feels good. It's always fun to step back on the football field."

For weeks, Lewis wore a suit and tie in court, while prosecutors implicated him in a double murder outside a post-Super Bowl party in Atlanta.

Exactly one week after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing justice in an agreement that had him testify against his former co-defendents, Lewis once again was wearing his purple No. 52 jersey as the Ravens opened a four-day minicamp.

Soon after the practice session ended, the Atlanta jury acquitted co-defendents Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley. Lewis had left camp by the time the news came and was unavailable for comment, and the Ravens declined to comment on the verdicts.

The Baltimore players weren't wearing pads in the workout, but that didn't stop Lewis from flattening his Sharpe during a non-contact drill. Sharpe and Lewis lifted weights together in Atlanta virtually every night after court was adjourned for the day.

"It's real good to see him out there," Sharpe said. "He was anxious to get out there, and he should be after what he went through.

"He felt good, but it was only the first day. Later on he's going to be dragging, I can assure you."

The soreness associated with playing football might be a welcome feeling for Lewis, who once faced the prospect of a lengthy jail term but emerged with 12 months probation and no suspension from the NFL.

The Ravens couldn't be happier to see him again, because the league's No. 2 defense in 1999 just isn't the same without Lewis at middle linebacker. Because of his legal problems, he missed one minicamp and a pair of passing camps.

"The defense needs him because I've really been dicing them up since he's been gone," quarterback Tony Banks said.

"The team with the best players always win. The more good players you have, the better chance you have of winning," Sharpe said. "There's no question he's one of the top players on our ballclub. It's to our advantage to have him out there every snap."

Before the play against Sarpe, Lewis slipped while trying to cover running back Priest Holmes, who easily caught a short pass from Banks. But for the most part, Lewis looked sharp.

"After 15 years, you just don't lose it," he said. "I felt comfortable out there today."

The beginning of minicamp usually draws about a dozen reporters, but the crowd surrounding the field Monday almost matched the 80 players who participated in the two-hour session.

"I don't think the players were overly distracted, and if we can get this out of the way this week and not have to address it at training camp, all the better," coach Brian Billick said.

Before the practice, many of Lewis' teammates made a point of going by his locker to welcome him back.

"He's very positive, as well he should be," Sharpe said. "He went through all that and now gets the opportunity to come back and do something he loves and enjoys doing."

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