Speed to burn

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The fact most opponents run away from Tennessee football signee LaTroy Lewis is the ultimate compliment. It also may be the ultimate mistake.

Lewis, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end from Archbishop Hoban High in Akron, Ohio, is so outstanding in pursuit that running away from him may be even more futile than running right at him.

"LaTroy is really tough as the backside defender," Hoban High head man Ralph Orsini told InsideTennessee. "He can run down plays better than any player I've seen in my 30-plus years of coaching. He plays pretty tough defense when they run at him — forcing teams to bounce it outside — but his greatest strength is when people run away from him and LaTroy comes from the backside and makes a play."

If early indications are correct and Tennessee goes to more of a 3-4 base defense in 2012, Lewis could be a perfect fit at outside linebacker. He exhibited suitable agility while splitting time between end and linebacker for Hoban High before suffering a Game 3 foot fracture last fall.

"The plan this year was to play him more as a standup end and linebacker," Orsini said. "LaTroy had a tremendous game in the opener against Gonzaga Prep of Washington D.C. He had two or three sacks, caused a fumble and was really dominating throughout the game."

It is this rare agility that makes Lewis such an intriguing member of Tennessee's 2012 signing class.

"His overall athleticism puts him at the top of the heap, especially how he's able to cover ground from Point A to Point B," Orsini said. "He has great quickness, and that's what the people in Knoxville really enjoyed seeing from him."

Whether Lewis plays end or linebacker for the Vols, he projects to be a dangerous weapon as a pass rusher.

"That's a real strength for him," Orsini said. "He has great quickness off the line of scrimmage and has a real knack for beating offensive linemen, especially to the outside. His initial step off the line is excellent."

The coach recalls one play from two years ago that provides a perfect illustration of Lewis' dynamic quickness.

"When he was a sophomore we were playing Parma Padua and they tried to throw a screen pass," Orsini recalled. "LaTroy was rushing the quarterback, leaped high in the air and tipped the ball. As he tipped the ball he was able to adjust his body and make an incredible interception that he returned for a touchdown.

"It was definitely highlight material — the way he was able to get up in the air and tip it, then have the presence of mind to catch it and take it back for a touchdown. We wound up winning 10-6, so that was the key play in the game."

In addition to using his explosiveness, Lewis understands how to use leverage in getting off of blocks and chasing quarterbacks.

"Coming off the edge, he's one of those defensive ends who really has a great positional step on his pass rush that allows him to get his hands on the offensive linemen before they get set up," Orsini said. "And he has the quickness to get by them on his way to the quarterback."

Most high school linemen need a year in a top-flight weight room before they're strong enough to contribute at the major-college level. Orsini thinks his star pupil will be an exception to this rule.

"I think LaTroy is ready to step in and challenge as early as next year," the coach said. "The unfortunate injury this year led to more motivation on his part. While he was unable to practice with us he spent a lot of time in the weight room, so he's a lot stronger now."

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