Lewis a consummate veteran among young WRs

Greg Lewis made a huge initial impression, but the rest of his first season in purple was far less dramatic and the biggest impact may have been in a mentoring role. He will be on the roster bubble once again this September, but he's still helping the young wide receivers as best he knows how.

The Vikings are a veteran-laden team that, about as much as any team in the league, are known for their core of players who have been through the NFL wars for a long time. To name a few, Brett Favre, Steve Hutchinson, Bryant McKinnie, Bernard Berrian, Jim Kleinsasser, Visanthe Shiancoe, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, Jimmy Kennedy, Jared Allen, E.J. Henderson, Ben Leber, Antoine Winfield, Madieu Williams and Lito Sheppard are grizzled veterans.

Greg Lewis qualifies for that list, but isn't on it.

Barring injuries, all 15 players listed above are guaranteed roster spots. As a result, they won't be pushed hard during training camp or the preseason games. They know they started getting paid Sept. 9 and what happens between now and then is simply to be ready when the gun goes off "for real." Lewis isn't on that list either.

Entering his eighth season, Lewis is in the battle of his life to keep his NFL career going. In February, he hit the worst number NFL running backs and wide receivers can hear. He turned 30. For most people, that age means you're getting older. In the NFL, it means you are officially old. How many times have you heard the phrase "he's on the wrong side of 30" when describing a veteran player? Lewis is now officially on the wrong side of 30.

While most veterans have been given the leeway to miss OTAs and even a mandatory minicamp, Lewis has been at Winter Park since the doors opened for the offseason program. He said it becomes more of a grind every year, but he knows his NFL future is far from certain. The workouts he and a slew of players much younger than him have gone through have been an unfortunate price Lewis has had to pay.

"It does get a little old after you've done it six or seven years," Lewis said. "But it's always good to get out with the new team, the new guys and just get adjusted and see where everybody's at in this point of the offseason."

Lewis spent six years with the Eagles – the first three with Vikings head coach Brad Childress – before being traded to the Patriots in March 2009. When he was one of the final cuts by the Patriots, he was signed by the Vikings. He caught only eight passes, but the first was the dramatic touchdown against the 49ers with two seconds to play that cemented Brett Favre's Vikings portion of his football legacy.

How tenuous is Lewis' position on the roster? In the Pro Football Weekly NFL preview, Lewis is listed as not playing in a single game in 2009. Worse yet, in The Sporting News NFL preview magazine, six wide receivers are listed on the Vikings roster, including Taye Biddle and Vinny Perretta. Perretta isn't with the team anymore. Lewis wasn't listed.

It's those kinds of snubs that motivate Lewis. He is consistently one of the first players to show up to work out at Winter Park. Part of that is work ethic. Part of it is having to change his workout routine to adjust for his advancing age.

"This game does take a toll on your body after a few years," Lewis said. "You have to ice a little more and get up a little earlier to stretch and whatnot, but I want to do all that. It's part of being a professional."

Another key part of being a professional is being a mentor to young, hungry receivers looking to make an NFL roster by any means necessary. He was one of those guys, having come to the Eagles as an undrafted free agent. He knows what it took for him to make a big enough impression on guys like Childress and Eagles head coach Andy Reid to make the final roster, and he said he's more than willing to pay if forward to the group of wide receiver hopefuls looking to live the same dream he realized in 2003.

"I want to be able to help younger guys learn and do the right things," Lewis said. "That way, when they get out there, they can just let their talent show rather than thinking about too much stuff. I'm not one of those guys who will go out and not tell what the right thing is to do. If you're good enough to be out there, they're going to put you out there anyway – regardless of whether you're out to get my spot or not. Why not help somebody? People helped me and I'm just trying to help other people out."

In the case of Lewis, the teammate that took him under his wing was Todd Pinkston, another former Eagle who followed Childress to the Vikings, but, still struggling with his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon, was released just six days later. Like Lewis, Pinkston dealt with the vicious Eagles fans and media for six years and, when Lewis came into the league, Pinkston was instrumental in helping Lewis with his transition to the pro game and he hasn't forgotten the lessons learned from that experience.

In the circle of life in the NFL, Pinkston and Lewis have been reunited. Pinkston has been at Winter Park as an intern assistant coach and has been working with the young Vikings receivers and reunited with his old friend from his Eagles days. Lewis said that both of them are pushing the young players to be their best and do what they need to do to get noticed.

"He was pretty much the one who showed me around town and helped me learn the plays," Lewis said. "He showed me how to be a professional and I'll always be indebted to him for that. I'm just trying to help other people do the same thing. I came in undrafted, so I know what it's like to have to work hard. If you keep working and keep working, eventually somebody is going to see you if you're doing the right things all the time."

When the final cuts come at the end of the preseason, Lewis will likely be waiting by his phone hoping it doesn't ring. He likely won't be sure until he sees the list of players that have been cut and his name isn't on it. Whether he stays or goes, the imprint Lewis has made on the Vikings goes far beyond an eight-catch season and one catch for the ages. If he loses his roster spot to one of the young players looking to start his own NFL career, that player will be better for having known Lewis and worked with him.

One thing is certain. If Lewis doesn't make the final 53-man roster, it won't be because he didn't put forth his full effort. He's been doing that since February.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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