Keith's Take

Keith Lewis was direct and to the point on what he needs to do to have a good season.

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"The main thing is to continue to stay healthy," said the 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior linebacker.

And that was it, his first comment as he looks ahead to a season that begins two weeks from tonight in Nashville, Tenn.

Lewis said really the entire set of linebackers has that as their hope, although "staying healthy" isn't necessarily something one can be certain of. But being in the best shape as well as being mentally prepared can assist in that regard.

"As a linebacker corps, we just want to play off each other's strengths," said the Tampa, Fla., Freedom High product. "We're all just trying to be one, and that's how we're going to make it."

Lewis always encompasses his defensive teammates when assessing the situation. He did that again concerning his knowledge of that side of the ball.

"I feel like I know the playbook front and back," Lewis said. "That's helping me play faster. That was all of our goal, to know the playbook. And that allows us to play faster on the field."

Lewis is a versatile and experienced player who can play any of the linebacker positions. He's played in 25 games during his first two seasons, but he's only started three. He's made 33 tackles but created a lot more problems for opposing offenses than just what the numbers show.

He believes he's the best player he's ever been.

"I feel like one of my strong points is just being able to get to where I need to. Being able to move and stay flexible and be strong is a big deal for my game."

Lewis likes what he sees from his fellow linebackers in 2013.

Keith Lewis
File Photo

"There's the ability that we have with all that speed on the field," he said. "We may not be as big as Alabama, but we know our defense, and we know we need to fit. We're going to get where we need to be when the ball is hiked.

"We know our plays. We fill our gaps. That's all you need. Know your playbook, and when they call a call, fit your gap, be where you're supposed to be, do your job. And that's where our defense is going to change this year. Everybody is going to do their job."

Having D.T. Shackelford back helps in so many ways, according to Lewis.

"He's very passionate. He brings a lot of emotion when he's out there on the field. Two years not playing out there, imagine what anybody would do. Just having him out there next to you is a great thing."

The Rebel defense got better as 2012 moved along. Texas put up 66 points in a September game, and that may have actually signaled a turning point for the defenders. It was almost put up or shut up time. Lewis looks back and remembers some of those early times last season.

"Last year, everybody was still trying to learn the coaches," he said. "We just met them; they just met us. We were just trying to trust the system. I feel like later on in the season everybody came together and knew (the coaches) weren't going to tell us wrong. So that's what we did."

Preseason camp is two weeks in, which means halfway to the season opener at Vanderbilt. The grind continues. But Lewis doesn't look at it that way. He sees having two more weeks as motivation, not as just going through the motions for the squad.

"It's not tough. We've been off about six months now," he said. "Vandy, we're ready for them. It's the excitement. We're ready to go."

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