The Ole Miss coordinators - DC Tyrone Nix and OC Kent Austin - opened their postgame interviews,…
Kendrick Lewis -
He started seven of those contests. Yet the impression he left was not what he was hoping for.
Kendrick has a natural knack for pass coverage, but his run support was admittedly poor. His tackling techniques and results were not what you are looking for from a position that is the last line of defense.
Midway through the 2007 season, he gave way to true freshman Johnny Brown, who was just the opposite at the time. Average in the passing game, but a sure, physical tackler.
The competition in spring was fierce, but Brown came out of the camp with a slight lead over Lewis.
Lewis kept working and had an excellent offseason, getting his body stronger and working on his own on putting himself in the right positions to become a trusted tackler.
When August camp opened up, Brown was taking number one reps, but Kendrick quickly closed the small gap that was there. When Brown pulled a hamstring, Lewis took over the position, and even though he suffered an ankle injury that cost him a few days of practice, he has maintained the number one spot - by a hair.
"Kendrick's intensity has been the difference in August. He never lets up and he has become a much better tackler. He's always had good ball skills, but now he's filling in the blanks in his game and becoming a complete player," said Safety Coach Kim Dameron.
Kendrick, now more mature and chiseled physically, said he believes in constantly competing.
"If you don't like competition, this is the wrong sport and wrong level of play for you," he said.
Kendrick never got down on himself last year when he was whiffing on tackle attempts. He knew the score and kept competing.
"It's not easy having played your whole career on offense making the transition to defense. It's a different mentality on the defensive side of the ball," he explains. "You have to take a more physical approach and that was new to me.
"I knew tackling was a weakness of mine, so I worked hard at it and eventually got it right."
Lewis said it wasn't a technique thing that held him back, it was a mindset.
"You have to be tough and physical. I was used to playing with finesse. Finesse doesn't work on defense," he added. "I had to get tougher. I worked at it. I wasn't afraid of contact or anything like that, I just didn't attack the situation like you have to on defense."
He heard the whispers that he couldn't tackle and bowed up in the face of the criticism.
"I hate when someone tells me I can't do something. I can't is not in my vocabulary," Lewis said. "When someone tells me I can't do something, it makes me try that much harder to prove them wrong."
Coach Houston Nutt has praised Lewis' physical approach this fall camp, calling him "one of our biggest hitters." Kendrick likes the praise, but he says it's that way across the board with the safeties.
"We don't have anyone back there who isn't a big hitter, in my opinion," Lewis. "All of us will strike you."
Good coverage results have never been an issue for Kendrick. While he believes he has a natural ability to cover, he says there are more factors involved in making him somewhat of a ball hawk on the team.
"I think I do have some good instincts in coverage and I do play the ball well when it's in the air because of my experience as a wide receiver, but it's a unit thing as well," he explained. "I try to be in good position, but the corners help me by giving me a good funnel or a nice jam at the line.
"And we all depend on the pressure on the quarterback. If a QB is hurried, he's more likely to be a little off with his throws and that creates opportunities for the secondary to make plays on the ball."
Kendrick has always had confidence in SS Jamarca Sanford, but he has also gained confidence in the corners as well.
"They are getting better and better every day. We are holding our own with our receivers now and I don't think that was the case in spring," he noted. "Our corners have good competition going on and that has made all of them better."
Lewis bristles a little bit when reminded that the secondary was anticipated to be a weakness on the team.
"What people say doesn't affect us. They don't know. The are on the outside looking in. We are the ones out here working hard, working together," he glared. "We won't be a weakness.
"It's all been a matter of learning the system in the spring and knowing what to do. Now it's all coming together. Coach (Kim) Dameron is coaching us hard and putting us in the right positions. We feel good about things."
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