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Published: Thursday, 8/27/2009

Lewis isn't worried about age as Browns' camp wraps up

BY MARLA RIDENOUR
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL

BEREA, Ohio - His beard is flecked with a few gray hairs, not noticeable from a distance but enough to pluck if he were vain enough to care.

But the NFL has been trying to write off Jamal Lewis long before the Browns' running back turned 30 yesterday. He just goes on with the same steely determination in his eyes, churning his legs and bulling ahead. A few gray hairs are not going to faze him.

"You just have to keep everything in perspective and know that this is turning 30, what everybody's been talking about," Lewis said. "Here it is and I still feel like I did yesterday."

The Baltimore Ravens thought Lewis had nothing left when they let him go after the 2006 season, but he has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the Browns. His age doesn't seem to bother Browns coach Eric Mangini, who said he is "age-blind and how-they-got-here blind."

"I thought 30 was the new 20," Mangini joked. "I don't really look at it as once you hit 30 suddenly you fall off a cliff or something like that. I've been around a lot of older backs who have been very productive. He's in great shape."

Great shape, to be sure, but don't do any historical research about running backs turning 30.

There are success stories. The Mangini-coached Thomas Jones of the New York Jets totaled 1,312 yards at age 30 last season, which ranked fifth in the NFL.

Barry Sanders rushed for 1,491 yards at age 30, but then retired. Mangini saw Corey Dillon set the New England Patriots' single-season rushing record of 1,635 yards in 2004 when he was 30, but Dillon slipped to 733 and 812 yards his final two years.

Walter Payton gained 1,684 yards in his milestone birthday season and had two more 1,000-yard years after that. Marcus Allen played until he was 37.

But there are also those who fall off the cliff.

Earl Campbell played his last season at age 30 and managed just 643 yards for New Orleans. Eric Dickerson played four years after he turned 30, but slipped from 1,311 yards at 29 to 677 at 30. Thurman Thomas also forged on for five seasons, but his 30-year-old year was his last with 1,000 yards.

To his credit, Lewis made it through Mangini's physically demanding camp, which ended yesterday.

"I haven't paced myself, I just did what the coaches asked me to do," he said. "I took on the mind-set it was going to be a tough camp with new coaches coming in. I just expected the unknown. Everything went good, I stayed healthy and got a lot done."

Mangini praised Lewis for working with the younger backs: rookie James Davis, who attended the same Atlanta high school as Lewis, and Jerome Harrison.

"That's always the trademark of someone who's a pro and very confident in their abilities," Mangini said. "He has a lot of great things to share with those guys. He spends time with them. He tries to give them a head start, to prevent them from making some of the mistakes that he made."

BROWNS/ROGERS: Browns coach Eric Mangini said he'd be comfortable starting defensive tackle Shaun Rogers in the season opener even if the Pro Bowler misses the entire preseason.

Rogers returned to the stationary bike yesterday, a day after hitting the tackling sled and working on individual drills. He joined his defensive teammates on the sideline for the end of practice, wearing sneakers and carrying his football shoes.

Rogers, the team's lone Pro Bowl representative last year, left practice Aug. 2 with what appeared to be a foot injury. He has practiced sparingly since.



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