"I wouldn't say we have really a superstar in the wideout group. We have a lot of playmakers." Which is why whatever combination and collection of receivers happen to be on the field at the time, they all break with the ‘playmakers, on three' call. Or, challenge.
Lewis credits new receivers Coach Tim Brewster for instilling such a statement of football faith. "We'd been saying it, but he brought it along too." So far everyone has done their part to reinforce the confidence. All six of the regulars in the true-receiver rotation, that is the split ends and slot men, have caught at least two balls in as many games. Toss in, so to speak, the tight ends and running backs also running varied routes, and ten Bulldogs have a reception before mid-September.
For his part Lewis has four receptions, for 53 yards. By the way, he is one of seven Dogs netting double-digit yardage every time he gets hands on football, showing just how improved and productive this air attack has become. Of course based on last season everyone expected to see the usual senior suspects—Chris Smith, Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark—setting the wideout pace again.
But here is Lewis performing at the pace of his elders in varsity year-two. What is really worth noting is the total snaps this sophomore gets…because it means he is alternating with starting H-receiver Bumphis. True, the two will be on-field together in several sets. But it speaks volumes to Lewis' development that Mississippi State is willing to have Bumphis on the sideline more often so the youngster can make his own mark.
For that matter, this marks the faith quarterback Tyler Russell is showing in Lewis. Take their only connection last Saturday, in the third quarter when State had first down on the Tiger 36. With Auburn looking run Russell took a short drop and looked long. Even as the small pocket collapsed Russell hung in while Lewis, darting down the hashmark, made the correct cut.
The bullet was a bit high but not a problem for Lewis to snag with a couple of defenders right on top of him, for a 21-yard gainer. Coordinator Les Koenning shook his head just a bit over the attempt, though. "Tyler said he knew who was in the area and had confidence in the receiver and knew he could put it in there. There's a fine line between arrogance and confidence, and he's got that confidence."
Not just confidence in his own arm, but in his intended target. Lewis makes it sound as is more such plays are going to be made, too. "Me and Tyler talk all the time, we play around. I believe in him just like I think he believes in me. If I just keep the chemistry going throughout the season then it's going to be a beautiful year."
From the day he stepped on State's campus it was clear ‘Tubby' Lewis had plenty play-making talent. And he certainly understood the passing game from the throwing side after playing a lot of high school quarterback for the state championship Tylertown team. When he turned a short Russell throw into a 80-yard touchdown scamper at Memphis to open 2011 everyone thought it was just the first of many great big plays.
Then Lewis caught only six other balls all season. It was no knock on his raw ability—Lewis rushed the ball 11 times for 86 yards with a touchdown, that against Louisiana Tech. The frustrating fact was a kid who'd spent his prep career free-lancing practically every play was bound to struggle fitting into a structured offensive system.
But just look at Lewis now.
Yeah, it ain't like it used to be. I know what to do, I know when to do it. Because I've learned the whole system. I might do it a different way just to get open, but at the end of the day I'm going to end up in the right spot. I might not go the same way but I'm going to end up in the same spot."
Actually this is a fine statement on not just Mississippi State's offensive script, but the guiding philosophy. Plays might be structured but not cemented, giving each individual opportunity to show his specific skills. Lewis understands this completely today, even if at times he's tempted to find his own route.
"That's all they're trying to do they're trying to build the offense around the players. Wherever coach puts me I'm willing to make a play and do my role and keep getting victories." And, he adds, he's absolutely willing to share snaps and passes. The more the merrier, literally.
"Tyler and Coach believe in that to put us in situations where everybody has a catch or two at the end of the game," Lewis said. Besides, the kid still makes good use of his sideline times to watch the old Dog at work. Bumphis has become a mentor to his alternate and '13 successor in the slot.
"He's like a guy you can go ask a question any time you don't know the answer," Lewis said. "He knows the answers to all the questions you have. He'll watch me on my route, like I watch him on his route; and if I do something wrong he'll come up to me and say you should have done this, this, this. And when I watch him on his route I learn from him and try to get better."
The sky seems the limit for how much better Bulldog passing can become as this season progresses. Though, Lewis said, don't look for State to tilt the playbook too far air-ward. "We're going to try to go back to the basics. We're going to run the ball, throw the ball, we're just going to try to make plays and get another W."
And, continue backing up that huddle-break boast. ""We love it because that's what we think we are, playmakers!"
Ol' Diz would agree.