“I kind of did my little research.” Which clued Lewis in that he and Todd Grantham were going to get along jusssst fine. “He has a lot under his belt, he’s done things at different places. I’m just looking to see what he can do here.”
Seems safe to suggest linebackers coach and overall coordinator Grantham is equally anticipating what he can do with Leo Lewis. A quick review of 2016 shows all sorts of potential from this rising sophomore star of the Bulldog defense.
Of the whole Southeastern Conference, for that matter. Lewis made his name by earning Freshman All-SEC, and ended the regular season as league Freshman of the Week with his feats in the Egg Bowl victory. Oh, and for good measure, Lewis added seven stops as State won the St. Petersburg Bowl to cap their season-ending surge.
When all stats were tallied Lewis had 79 official tackles (most of any SEC freshman defender, any position). He was second only to senior Bulldog ‘backer Richie Brown on this team.
So…what do to here in Act Two of his college career? Certainly not rest on freshman feats, Lewis said.
“Things change a lot, because I’m going into my second spring with this experience. Every step of my development is vital, learning the game more and more. I’m in the film room every day trying to learn this and that, learning coverages, learning the offenses. Just keep getting better every year.”
Oh, and by the way, getting accustomed to a new coach. Research confirms Grantham’s reputation as an aggressive, attacking defensive guy. Which happily fits Lewis’ own attitude about linebacking in particular and defense in general.
“Definitely getting after the quarterback. Blitz a lot, guys coming off the edge, guys moving around from spot to spot. Definitely like me for example moving outside of the box, inside the box, coming off the edge. Just a lot of different things moving guys around.”
All of the guys Grantham will be moving around, from the Dog on the nose to the farthest-back safety, are absorbing the specifics now with spring practicing underway. Early reports are positive, at least for the defense, with coaches and players alike talking of pressure and stops and sacks and turnovers. Lots and lots of turnovers. The offense’s impressions will be asked following Thursday’s practice, if any wonder.
For his part Lewis likes what he’s seen and what he himself is doing.
“I really feel confident about it. Everybody is in place, everybody is on one page. Things are going pretty well.”
Speaking of place, what is Lewis’ positioning here in early spring? Either inside linebacker, the job held for the past few years by gradated Richie Brown and now open; or on the outside where Lewis got his 2016 snaps as a 13-game freshman starter. Never mind he’s fully-seasoned over on the weak side, Lewis has his eyes on the middle now.
“I like inside the box. But I really need to expand my game so I’m working on my coverage skills and things like that.”
Fact is, Grantham is not assigning much of anyone anywhere just yet. Maybe not for another few weeks, or through spring, or even into summer camp. He has made clear all jobs are open and there is no depth chart worth discussing. Thus it’s a spring camp of competition, even for All-SEC Dogs.
Lewis is fine with that. Dezmond Harris has proven his quality at mike ‘backer for one. Then there is the new-ish kid in camp, redshirted freshman Erroll Thompson, who caught attention during bowl camp with his work inside.
Lewis is a Thompson fan, for sure. “He’s still young, he’s still learning the game of football. But I mean his energy on the field, his physicality, the upside in everything.”
Then again, Leo Lewis is only beginning to tap into his own upside potential. Just one varsity year to his credit and already he is recognized as one of the best still-young linebackers in a league known for the position. Yes, Lewis said, being a Freshman All-SEC was good and all. But…
“I definitely want to be SEC all-first team. I want to be a finalist for the Butkus Award. I want to do as much as I can do while I’m here at Mississippi State.”