"I feel real good," said Lewis following Mississippi State's practice Tuesday. "I feel comfortable, I feel confident, and I think we're going to go out there and make plays and we're going to get the W. That's how I feel."
Said with feeling, obviously. Lewis, the starting slot man in the three and four wideouts sets the Bulldogs figure to throw at everyone this season, might feel at least a little pressure to produce. Any unit which graduated all the starting wide receivers as well as the top tight end from last season has something to prove. Put statistically, 21 of the 28 receiving scores from 2012 have to be replaced. And fast.
Still Lewis and cohorts regard 2013 as their turn to run those routes and catch those Russell passes. Pressure? What pressure? If anything these receivers have acted as if they were being scored by the same ‘juice points' as awarded Dog defenders at practices.
"I mean we've been having the juice all through camp," Lewis said. "And in the game everybody is going to turn it up a notch. We're just trying to get better coming into that game to perform."
Lewis, backup to Chad Bumphis as slot receiver for two years, has settled into the starting role since spring and set a preseason tone. He caught ten balls for 108 yards in substitution duty last season, a total Lewis could match in just a month this fall. If enough throws come his way that is. If not it won't be because Russell is ignoring the slot-man, but because Lewis has his own backups now in redshirt and speedster Brandon Holloway and juco Jeremy Chappelle. The latter is nominally a split end but this year coordinator Les Koenning wants to force mismatches with size, speed, or preferably both.
Thus the taller Chappelle could slide into the slot some times while Lewis takes his talents closer to the sideline. And Holloway can just plain run downfield to hopefully stretch coverages. That's the plan anyway and it reads fine in the playbook. Lewis reports practices have been productive for all three slot-Dogs.
"I think Coach is just letting everybody rep so everybody can stay fresh in the game. And so far everybody is doing good at that position." They'd better if getting onfield regularly is the goal, because those shared practice reps should keep all players on their toes.
"It helps a lot. Knowing we've got somebody to push us ought to make us get better. Because you know if you fall off somebody else is going in."
That's equally true at the X and Z jobs. Veterans Robert Johnson and Joe Morrow are holding their own first-team jobs, per reports. Yet unlike previous seasons a true rotation is taking shape, because the numbers are available and the abilities are obvious. A trio of true frosh have already impressed, most of all De'Runnya Wilson who might still be a bit raw technically but has all the tools to develop. Yes, count Lewis among those impressed.
"He makes plays. A player his size plays big, he goes up and protects the ball. And I like that. He doesn't have too many drops and most time he doesn't even have gloves on, he has bare hands." Which might reflect Wilson's basketball background, reckon? At the same time classmates Fred Ross and Shelby Christy are making their own no-redshirt cases in camp, despite minor injuries (groin and shoulder respectively).
There's another reason having a ready-now alternate for Lewis is wise. He wants, even lobbies daily, for expanded duty with the special teams. As a soph he returned at team-high 20 kickoffs with a 25.9 average, and ended the regular season with a 100-yard touchdown gallop in the Egg Bowl. That would be enough for most players but ‘Tubby' is bidding to take on punt return as well.
"I'm doing both and trying to perfect both," he said of practices this week. "Me, Perk (LaDarius Perkins), and Nickoe (Whitley) have been subbing every rep." Lewis doesn't deny that these return roles are not really identical, yet there's enough similarity in his mind that hey Coach, why not let me field both types of kicks?
"You can take something from both of them running with the ball and everybody running downfield. Just have good eyes, find the hole and hit the crease" And really, the frenzy of kicking plays suits Lewis' attitude as much as aptitude; he was a winning high school quarterback after all who thrived on making things happen in the moment more than by plan.
And his full-field touchdown return last year, he said, is just a hint of what is possible. "That ain't seen nothing yet, I've got a whole lot to show," Lewis claimed. "I really see a vision of taking one back!"
Either way, and whatever role, Lewis can likely count on a lot of chances to run with or without the ball this Saturday. Whether off kicks or in offensive turns this opening game is shaping up as a shootout. That is certainly Oklahoma State's preference, yet this Mississippi State squad—both sides of the ball—appears better suited to not only handle tempo, but set some themselves.
"We can play fast-paced, too," said Lewis. "It's whatever Coach wants to do because we can sub men in-and-out just like they do. So whatever Coach calls we're ready."