Lions' Late Pick Lewis Showing He Belongs

Former Oklahoma linebacker and seventh-round pick Travis Lewis is picking up Detroit's defensive scheme and proving that -- despite his draft status -- he belongs.

ALLEN PARK -- When a team selects a linebacker in the seventh round -- and with their very last selection, immediate hopes aren't very high.

The hope is for that player to develop into a future contributor but that is overpowered by the obstacle of simply making the final roster.

Travis Lewis, the Detroit Lions 223rd overall selection in this year's draft, defies this thought process.

Lewis is one of several young linebackers with promise playing behind a trio of veteran talent (Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy). Lewis may be the best prospect of the group.

With an exceptional football IQ and a strong ability to learn, Lewis best fits at the middle linebacker position. This is exactly where the Lions are playing him.

At the moment, Lewis is manning the middle for the number three linebacker unit, which is causing his solid performance to fly under the radar, while other youngsters –such as Tahir Whitehead – are getting most of the attention.

It's not to say that the attention the others receive isn't deserved but Lewis may be the standout of the group.

"Tahir Whitehead in the OTAs (was) really, really good," said defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. "He looked great (but) he came in the first week and dropped off where Travis Lewis stepped up and played much better."

Cunningham isn't the only coach to notice Lewis.

"I don't want to jinx him but he has really been outstanding," said head coach Jim Schwartz. "Number one, physically, number two, just picking up the scheme. It's one thing knowing what to do but it's another thing being able to do it when the offense is coming out quick and motioning and changing tight end and doing all those different things. He's never once had any kind of problems. He's adjusting pretty quickly to a complex scheme."

The quick adjustment might have something to do with thet "complex scheme".

During his collegiate career with the Oklahoma Sooners, Lewis was the quarterback of the defense. Making all the calls and having the mental responsibility of knowing exactly what everyone was doing. This was complicated by the fact that the Sooners often employed a hybrid safety/linebacker to play with speed, acting differently than the other linebacker flanking Lewis.

The Lions keep it much simpler by using both outside linebacker positions in the same way.

"The stuff they had me doing in college is way more sophisticated," Lewis said, in reference to his role -- not the defensive schemes themselves. "As far as out there, you have a call, you make a call, the D line makes their call and the secondary makes their call but in college you made everybody's call. So, what he (Sooners former defensive coordinator Brent Venables) put on me, it allows me to pick up this so much faster."

But, if Lewis is so good, why wasn't he selected in an earlier round?

Many factors contributed to Lewis lasting as long as he did in the draft. Lewis saw a drop off in production during his senior season due to injury and also doesn't have prototypical size to play in the middle and doesn't have desirable speed to be an effective pass rusher from the linebacker position.

What Lewis has includes smarts, a proven track record of production and an outstanding work ethic.

With so many early-round linebacker busts in today's NFL, Lewis has the package and opportunity to be a late-round gem.

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