Ronnell Lewis came to Detroit as a fourth-round pick with a cool nickname – “The Hammer” – and a reputation as a special-teams star in college at Oklahoma.
A year later, he’s trying to hang on to a job and prove he’s really not a wasted draft pick and a total flop.
“Coming in, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Lewis said. “Now that I do, I’m more aware of how to control certain situations and take care of myself, my body, just stay focused.
“Every day, I walk around with a chip on my shoulder. I feel every day I’ve got something to prove.”
The question is whether it’s going to be too little and too late.
Lewis has bounced back lately to make some impressive plays during the Lions’ first two preseason games, but he remains a “tweener,” which ultimately could lead to his downfall.
Lewis played linebacker in college, but he’s not fast enough to do that in the NFL. So, immediately after drafting him, the Lions moved Lewis to defensive end, where he is undersized at 6-foot-2, 253 pounds.
Lewis played in eight games last season, mostly on special teams (two tackles), but he was inactive for the final seven weeks. He played only one snap on defense all year.
“It was really a lot more (about) availability last year,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “That set him back so much with the practice time, even game time that he would miss.”
Lewis said he was healthy a year ago, but he did admit there were some other problems, which apparently led to that missed time.
“I just had some personal issues that I was dealing with,” Lewis said. “I’ve learned from the vets that you can’t let that stuff get to you. It can affect your game.
“It’s not an excuse. I’m a man. I’ve got to take responsibility. But some of my personal issues kind of threw me off track just a little bit. Now I’ve learned to cope and deal with the things that have happened.
“Looking back, I could have done things a lot different. I feel like I should have worked harder. I just know deep down that I could have done a lot more than what I did.”
Lewis wouldn’t elaborate on the nature of the problems.
“I don’t want to get into the details,” he said. “It’s family related. I just feel like it’s for nobody else to know besides me and the close people around me. I don’t want to put my situation out there.”
Lewis didn’t help matters by getting arrested during the off-season for a fight outside a bar when he was back in Oklahoma.
He took another step back when he missed the first five practices of training camp after being placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with an undisclosed injury or physical condition.
However, in the preseason opener last week against the New York Jets, Lewis made a sack and recovered a fumble in 17 defensive snaps.
He followed that up with another good performance in Thursday’s game at Cleveland when he made two tackles, including completely blowing up a running play in the final minutes, while getting 15 snaps.
“Since he’s been off the PUP, he’s had a very good camp,” Schwartz said. “He’s been trying to carve out a niche, carve out a role. He still has a long way to go, but he has made up some lost time.”
While Schwartz describes him as a “very good special-teams player (in college) who still could contribute in that role,” Lewis has been on the field for only one play on special teams over the first two exhibitions.
It suggests that he might not fit into the Lions’ plans, after all.
“We’ve got a lot of guys in here, it’s a big rotation,” Lewis said. “My turn’s going to come. I’ve just got to keep working at it. Jobs are tough.”
Lewis is doing everything he can now to try to win one of those jobs. He knows he can’t fix the past.
“Everybody has ups and downs,” he said. “I had a little struggle. I felt like I fought through it. I’m going to continue to be a fighter.
“I’ve got to put it behind me and worry about right now. When I go to bed, I just think about how can I get better tomorrow morning.”