Wide receivers are not known for their hitting ability. They like their uniforms to stay clean.
Not the case with down-and-dirty defenders. They thrive on contact and like to mix it up.
So how is that Kendrick Lewis, a guy signed as a wideout who played WR as a true freshman before cracking his hip midway through the 2006 season, didn't put up a fuss when he was informed he would - starting in spring training - be a free safety?
"I wanted it. I felt all along that I am a safety. I played safety in high school and loved it," said Kendrick. "I love to hit.
"In high school, I drew more attention as a wide receiver and was told by a lot of people that would be my best position in high school. I didn't get much exposure as a safety and just kind of went with it. My mindset briefly changed where I wanted to be a wide receiver in college, but after playing there last season, I realized my future was at safety. When the coaches approached me about the move, I was very happy."
When Lewis came to Ole Miss, the Rebels had graduated most of their receiving corps. He saw an opening. Now he has been dealt the same type of situation on defense.
"When I first got here, I knew there would be an opportunity to play early because Mike Wallace was the only returning wide receiver," he noted. "Now, it's the same thing at free safety. Charles Clark graduated and we had no returning safeties.
"The coaches moved me and CB Terrell Jackson to FS and we've been learning the position and battling ever since. We both know we have an opening for quality playing time and maybe to start. And the benefit of free safety is that there isn't as much rotating in and out as there is at wideout."
Kendrick said there is a world of difference, however, in playing safety in high school and playing it on the collegiate level.
"You have to be a lot smarter on this level. You have to be able to think quickly and be a quarterback of the defense," he explained. "You are responsible for a lot more calls, coverages and what other people are supposed to do within those calls.
"I feel I can keep up physically. I've adjusted to the physical speed of the game well, but the mental side of it is still a work in progress."
The free safety in the Ole Miss system is responsible for never letting a receiver behind him and run support, depending on the call, but most of the time the distinction has to be made within a second or two.
"You have to read the OL, the QB drops, if the OL is pulling, a variety of things, and you have to do it in a hurry," he said.
Kendrick said he's comfortable in run support, but is still honing his coverage skills.
"I have to work on coming out of my breaks when a receiver comes out of his breaks," Kendrick assessed. "I have to continue working on my footwork and my awareness so I don't take false steps in the wrong direction.
"I do a pretty good job in run support, but everything needs polishing. You can never be perfect, but you always strive to be."
As far as the contact part is concerned, Lewis' eyes light up.
"Wide receivers want to look pretty and not get touched. I started getting that mentality a little," he laughed. "I'm glad that is gone now. I like to hit and I always did. It took this spring at FS to remind me of that.
"I consider myself a sure tackler more than a hard hitter right now, but if I get an opening I will get in a good shot here and there."
Kendrick believes free safety should be a strong position for the Rebels next year.
"If Terrell and I make the progress we did in spring when August rolls around, we will be a strength of the defense, I believe," he stated. "It's all a matter of learning what we have to do and we are both catching on and competing."
Lewis said he's 100% now and there are no lingering affects from the cracked hip that cost him six games in 2006 and came at a point too deep in the season when he could not apply for a medical redshirt.
"That was a freak thing. I just landed wrong. I'm glad I didn't have to have surgery and it healed on its own. I don't even notice it now," he closed. "I didn't consider the year as wasted. I got some experience and learned the speed of the game. Injuries are just a part of football.
"The injury is gone, out of my mind. I didn't feel anything in spring. I'm a little bigger and faster now and I know I'm smarter. The year was not wasted. I regret I got hurt, but it wasn't wasted."
Look for #1 on the field next year.
He won't be the clean one.
Kendrick Lewis update -
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