In 2007, Kendrick Lewis was making his first stab at defense after playing wide receiver his first year at Ole Miss.
Even though he played in all 12 games, starting six, Lewis had some issues that needed to be corrected, particularly in the tackling department, a key ingredient in playing free safety.
Kendrick worked hard to become a better tackler prior to 2008 opening up and landed a starting role at FS he never gave up.
In 2008, with the Rebels racking up a 9-4 record, Lewis was one of the most improved players on the team and one of the most effective.
As he enters his final campaign at Ole Miss, he not only wants to be one of the better players on the team, he's also exhibiting his leadership skills during the offseason.
"Kendrick played well for us in 2008. He's smart, active and a playmaker," said Coach Houston Nutt. "But now he's adding being a leader to the total package and we are glad to see that emerge."
Lewis let nature take its course, so to speak, in his earlier years, but now that he's a senior, it's his turn to lead.
"I always knew I had leadership ability in me, but last year it was a case of us having four great leaders and I just let them do their job as seniors," said Lewis. "This year, it's our job as seniors. The responsibility is on our backs now and it's something all the seniors are getting into.
"Our seniors last year were not only leaders on the field, they were leaders off the field. I learned a lot from them and it's now my duty and the duty of all the seniors to do the same for our younger players. It's the natural order of things."
Kendrick's senior season started the day after the Cotton Bowl and he's not going to take it for granted.
"It's my last chance on this level. I'm not letting any day go by without trying to improve. I'm not going to waste any opportunities I have to get better," he stated.
During the offseason, there isn't one area Kendrick is focusing on. He's trying to improve the overall package.
"I want to get better mentally and physically, in every way," he said. "I want to get in the film room and study and keep working hard in the weight room.
"Bigger, stronger, faster and smarter are my goals."
Lewis was flanked by Jamarca Sanford at strong safety last year. Jamarca, one of the four leaders he mentioned, is now gone.
"Right now, it looks like Johnny Brown will take his spot. I have full confidence in Johnny. He's up to the challenge of taking over for Jamarca," he noted.
The "smarter" part of the equation has to do with not only knowing his job, but being able to direct traffic in the secondary by knowing everyone else's as well.
"Some of the young guys don't understand the concepts of the coverages as well as the older guys do and it's our job to make sure they understand why we do what we do," Lewis added. "You have to understand in coverages where your weak spots are, what you can give up and what you can't give up. You have to know what the receivers are trying to do also. If you know all those things, you can be more aggressive in your approach."
Kendrick feels the progress of the secondary will show up more this year because the players are in the second year of Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix's defensive schemes.
"We are getting the concepts now. Last year, we had some mental errors, but as we learned more and more about the system we got better," he said. "This year, we should know everything inside and out and that should help our performance and production. We should be able to play faster.
"We should be able to play more instinctive now and that will help us play faster."
Kendrick says he is aware the Rebels will have a high preseason ranking, but it means little to him.
"I don't pay any attention to that. These are the same people who had us last in the West before last season," he closed. "You can't look at that. You have to work hard to improve every day. Everyone is trying to beat everyone, best man wins.
"We are going to work hard and prepare ourselves as if we are starting from scratch, because in reality we are. Everyone will start next year 0-0 and everyone wants to win. Forget last year. Forget predictions. What counts is what you do on the field."
Kendrick Lewis was, arguably, the most improved player on the Rebel team last year. In 2009, he's likely to add most valuable and leader to his list of accomplishments.
Don't wager against him. . . .
Kendrick Lewis -
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