OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Just over seven weeks after Ravens coach John Harbaugh initially declared Ray Lewis’ season was over after tearing his right triceps, the 37-year-old walked out to the practice field Wednesday as he typically does with close friend Ray Rice.
As Rice announced his teammate’s much-awaited return to practice, Lewis laughed and said, “That’s a crazy boy right there!” A few moments later, the linebacker began doing work on the Jugs machine, catching passes and testing out the mobility in his upper right arm for the first time in football pads.
It looked like an ordinary day of work after an extraordinary recovery.
Though not expected to receive extensive work on Wednesday, the 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker took the next step in his comeback attempt by taking part in his first practice since injuring his right arm in the Ravens’ 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14. Originally feared to be lost for the season, Lewis was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, which was regarded at the time as little more than a favor to the Ravens’ emotional leader.
However, Lewis now appears on the cusp of returning to game action in eight weeks after suffering an injury that typically takes a minimum of four months for recovery and rehabilitation. Under the rules of the IR exemption, Lewis won’t become eligible to return to the 53-man roster until next week, meaning he would be able to play as soon as next Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos.
“I’m making progress and will practice some today, but the story shouldn’t be about me right now,” Lewis said in a statement released by the team. “We’re playing the Redskins Sunday, and I am not eligible to play. If I can help prepare my team in some way for that game, I will. When I know I will play in a game, or when I play in a game, I will say more then.”
Following a difficult 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the disappointing news of linebacker Terrell Suggs suffering a torn biceps that will keep his status in question in the foreseeable future, the return of the Ravens’ emotional and spiritual leader has to provide a lift for a team trying to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 2009.
Rice joked before Wednesday’s practice that Lewis’ return means he will not longer be able to wear his friend’s No. 52 jersey during workouts.
“He’s worked very hard,” Rice said. “I tease him all the time about him being a modern-day Superman, but there’s only one person that could have pulled off what he’s doing. He’s not doing it for his name to be in the paper about him coming back. He’s doing it solely because he loves this organization, loves his guys, and he loves being at war with us.”
The Ravens are downplaying any speculation of Lewis returning against the Broncos next week, but multiple reports have suggested the veteran is targeting a Week 15 comeback. His participation in practice this week makes it easy to conclude he would expect to play next week barring any setbacks.
Lewis will have missed only seven games should he play against Peyton Manning’s Broncos.
“We’ll see how he does,” Harbaugh said prior to Wednesday’s workout. “When the time comes for Ray to play, we’ll let you know. We’re not going to spring it on you. I don’t know when it’s going to be.”
Teammates repeatedly preached the need to put themselves in prime position for a playoff run in Lewis’ absence with the hope that he would be able to return to aid in their goal of reaching the Super Bowl in New Orleans. The Ravens are 4-2 without Lewis this season.
His return on Wednesday appears to be the latest example of how we all underestimated the greatest player in the history of the franchise.
“I feel good for him. I know that he’s getting up there and he wants to play,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “There is not anybody out there who loves the game of football more than he does. When he’s not on the field with his guys, you know it hurts him.”