Travis Lewis' versatility might get him on the field sooner rather than later

Posted May 18, 2012

If there’s one thing Lions head coach Jim Schwartz covets in his linebackers it’s versatility.

The Lions want their linebackers to be interchangeable and the fact that rookie seventh-round pick Travis Lewis has already showed he can play both inside and outside has caught the eye of Lions’ coaches. Lewis played both the Mike (middle) and outside linebacker position during rookie mini-camp last weekend.

“He was the one in this that did both,” Schwartz said after the mini-camp. “He played outside and inside. Everybody else we sort of kept at one position. But he’s a four-year starter at Oklahoma. He’s a smart guy and he’s had a lot of experience, so it’s easy for him to go do that.

“We value multi-dimensional linebackers – guys that are inside or outside because you’ve got to be able to do all those different things. I think that was important for him to be able to prove that he could. We thought that he could, but, again, you can tell those guys have been around the game. He has a lot of experience; he’s led his team in tackles for four years and all those different things.”

Lewis played mostly on the outside as a four-year starter in college, amassing 451 tackles and leading Oklahoma in tackles each of the last four years. Lewis says he’s equally comfortable at both positions and he doesn’t have a preference with the Lions.

“You are there long enough that you listen and learn their techniques and they’re responsibilities,” Lewis said of learning the middle just being around those guys as a four-year starter. “This team and their system are so similar (to Oklahoma’s) as far as their coverages. The only thing different is their terminology. That’s why I can jump right in and play the Will or the Mike or the left backer. It’s all easy, it’s just terminology.”

Lewis has played a lot of big-time college football in his career and has the benefit of also being a little older than a typical rookie at 24 years old.

“I’m a rookie but I’m an older guy and I’ve been playing ball for a while,” he said. “I had a defensive genius (Brent Venables) as my defensive coordinator (in college) and he ran every coverage in the book. Guys were really surprised at my combine interviews about how much I knew and how much I could describe coverages in-depth. “It really works to my favor playing football and being a four-year starter so long that I can jump in and make the switch.”

It’s a switch Lions starter DeAndre Levy made early in his career. Levy started at both inside (2 games) and outside (10 games) linebacker his rookie season in 2009. He then started in the middle in 2010 and went back outside last season when the team signed veteran Stephen Tulloch to roam the middle.

“It’s just learning to react from a different spot on the field,” Levy said of the switch. “That was the biggest thing for me, just seeing the reads. It’s doesn’t seem like a big deal being three or four yards over, but the difference is just getting adjusted and making sharp reads from each position.”

The fact that coaches believe Lewis can play both spots makes him a good candidate to be the Lions’ fourth linebacker heading into camp. Doug Hogue, who the Lions drafted in the fifth round last year, will compete for that spot, too, but Lewis has as good a shot as anyone to win the job out of camp.

“I think he's maybe a more game-ready type of kid cause he's played so much football,” Lions linebackers coach Matt Burke said of Lewis. “I think he's got a chance to play football maybe sooner than some of the other guys even.”

If Lewis can come in and show the type of versatility Levy showed as a rookie, he’s got a chance to play early in his career.

“If you have a guy that can play all three (linebacker positions), it’s more valuable for your team,” Lewis said. “I’m comfortable from that standpoint and I’m excited about it. “When I’m in the meeting room I’m not just listening to one thing. I’m soaking up everything said by everyone and it makes me a better player.”