Insider analysis: Michael Lewis
Chuck Hixson, WarNest.com: There were very few players - if any - on the Eagles who outworked Michael Lewis. Letting him get away could come back to bite the Eagles since Brian Dawkins is aging and Sean Considine still has a lot to learn. While Lewis didn't show the same type of skills that he did in 2004 and 2005, he was still a nice piece of the puzzle for the Eagles' defense in 2006. He stepped up to help out at linebacker in the Birds' dime package and handled the position well, but is better suited to playing at safety. Considine is the main reason why the Eagles let Lewis get away because they view him as being at least as good as Lewis with the potential to be even better. The Eagles wanted Lewis to return to help out at safety, but wanted him to spend most of his time playing in the dime package and that wasn't a role that Lewis wanted to take. The 49ers got a guy with a lot of talent and a guy that teammates will come to respect. He should be able to pick up the system quickly and will use his work ethic to push himself ahead of any challengers that the Niners may throw at him. He's also likely to throw himself into the San Francisco community the way that he did in Philadelphia. Lewis spent a lot of his spare time working with kids in his local church and with kids from around the Philadelphia area. He also gave his voice to the Philadelphia chapter of the American Heart Association, speaking about atrial fibrilation, which Lewis was diagnosed with in college. The problem hasn't slowed Lewis at all in his career. He also should be recovered from a sprained knee that he suffered late in the season and kept him out of the last two regular-season games. He played in the postseason and wasn't quite 100 percent, but provided key help. Look for Lewis to step up against the best of the best. In 2005, he picked up key interceptions against Eli Manning and Brett Favre and a key sack of Michael Vick. Lewis is the type of player that lives for pressure situations and can be counted on to step up in those situations. Craig Massei's take: To be sure, Michael Lewis adds a rock 'em, sock 'em physical presence to the San Francisco secondary to go along with great athleticism to make plays inside and outside the box. Lewis will see a lot of time close to the line of scrimmage in the team's 3-4 defense, but the 49ers also need him to perform in coverage in their base packages, and that's where the rub comes in about overpaying for Lewis in free agency after the team gave him a six-year, $30 million deal that included $9.8 million in guaranteed money. Obviously, the 49ers expect - and need - to get some big bang for their buck, but Lewis needs to be more than just a big hitter in the secondary. Though he runs very well for a big safety, overall coverage ability is considered a weakness in his game, and that was evident during the 49ers' spring drills when Lewis over-ran plays and had difficulty breaking down in front of receivers in the open field. But as long as he doesn't get isolated in coverage on quicker wideouts, Lewis should be OK in that area, and the rest of his game offers top-shelf ability and performance. The 49ers figure to devise their coverage packages to optimize Lewis' strengths, and one area where he promises to really help the team is coverage on tight ends, where he can use his size and strength to bump those players at the line and knock them off their intended routes. According to statistical analysis, for the second consecutive season in 2006, the 49ers had the worst defense in the NFL against opposing tight ends. That's a big reason Lewis was a brought in, and a key area where the team needs him to produce. He'll also be a factor on blitzes, where he promises to create havoc in opposing backfields, and he certainly looks to be a new piece that will provide an upgrade and fit nicely into the concepts of San Francisco's 3-4 scheme.
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