MIKE O'HARA

Thaddeus Lewis knows what it's like to get the opportunity of a lifetime

Posted Jul 5, 2013

The fact that Lewis has been on NFL rosters with the Rams and Browns the last three seasons made it worthwhile for the Lions to take a look at him

Thaddeus Lewis knows better than most young quarterbacks how the opportunity of a lifetime can come within the space of a couple phone calls.

From being put on high alert to a call to arms – it can happen that fast.

Thaddeus LewisQB Thaddeus Lewis

Lewis arrived in Detroit a month ago after being claimed on waivers by the Lions with starting experience as a quarterback in the NFL. It was just one game, but for a backup quarterback, starting any game is like kicking at gravel on a school playground and uncovering a gold nugget.

"To start a game," Lewis said the other day, "that's a dream come true."

Lewis was put on waivers on May 22 by the Browns and claimed by the Lions. He is competing with Kellen Moore for the No. 3 quarterback job behind starter Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill, a veteran regarded by many as the NFL's top No. 2 quarterback.

With the OTA workouts and a three-day mini-camp, Lewis had a little more than two weeks of solid work with the Lions' offense.

There is no indication that the Lions were unhappy with what Moore showed as a rookie last year, but the fact that Lewis has been on NFL rosters with the Rams and Browns the last three seasons made it worthwhile for the Lions to take a look at him.

"You're always looking to upgrade your roster at every position," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "He gives us some really valuable competition at quarterback."

The circumstances that led to Lewis starting last season's final game for the Browns represented an extreme case of a playing-field promotion.

He was on the practice squad when he got a call early in the week from Browns assistant coach Mark Whipple, telling him to be ready.

Lewis knew the situation of Cleveland's quarterbacks. Brandon Weeden, the starting quarterback, injured his right (passing) shoulder in the previous game and was out for the season-ender at Pittsburgh. Colt McCoy also was injured, but had played the previous week.

It wasn't long before Lewis got a second call from Whipple.

"He called me back five minutes later and said, 'You're starting,'" Lewis said. "It was surreal."

Surreal it was. And very real at the same time.

Although it was a nothing game in the standings for both teams – the Steelers would win, 24-10, to finish 8-8 while the Browns would drop to 5-11  – it was still NFL football against a storied franchise.

Lewis said he had not run a single play at quarterback all year in practice. He didn't even throw against the defense in practice.

"I played wide receiver, special teams, defensive back – wherever they needed me," he said. "You do everything full speed, to the best of your ability. I had to do whatever I could for the team."

The circumstances that gave Lewis his opportunity weren't ideal, and neither was his lack of pro game experience.

But it wasn't like a kid who knew how to put a paper clip on the nose of a paper airplane had been summoned to the flight deck to make an emergency landing with a 747.

Lewis had been a three-year starter at Duke, and he was signed by the Rams as an undrafted rookie in 2010. He made the opening day roster but was released early in the season.

Lewis was in camp with the Rams in 2011 but was released and claimed by the Browns. He spent the season on their active roster but did not play in a game.

Lewis says kept up with the playbook during the season, even though he wasn't running plays in practice.

He had a creditable performance against the Steelers, completing 22 of 32 passes for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Browns lost three fumbles, none of them by Lewis.

Lewis enjoyed the experience, especially playing against one of the legendary franchises. The Browns were competitive until the Steelers broke away from a 10-10 tie midway through the third quarter to win going away.

"It was fun," Lewis said. "When you get out there, it's just another guy in front of you. It was a great experience, just to have the team in position. I definitely enjoyed the experience. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

"It wasn't like I had a bad showcase – 'Oh, my God, I blew it.'"

What it leads to for Lewis in Detroit remains to be seen. The Lions got a look at him in the preseason last year. He completed five of eight passes for 90 yards in mop-up duty.

"He started a game and played well," said Linehan. "He's obviously a guy we were interested in when he was coming out of college. I remember watching him playing against us in the preseason last year. He played well."