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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Myron Lewis making a splash at Bucs camp

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:25 PM
TAMPA -

Myron Lewis ran in virtual lock step with receiver Vincent Jackson across the back of the end zone. As they approached the back corner, Lewis jumped and slapped a pass out of Jackson's hands, saving a touchdown.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have seen the former Vanderbilt cornerback make plays like that before, but only on occasion — and that's the rub with their 2010 third-round draft pick.

Though he possesses elite size and speed, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Lewis has lacked the consistency to be a reliable NFL corner. He has until recently, anyway.

That pass break-up Lewis executed against Jackson, a high-priced free agent acquisition and the team's No. 1 receiver, was just one of many splash plays Lewis has turned in during 11-on-11 training camp drills the past two weeks. The Bucs are growing more and more excited about that by the day.

"We're very pleased with him," secondary coach Ron Cooper said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence right now and that's important because these next couple of weeks are going to be big for him."

The previous two weeks were pretty big for Lewis, too. He started training camp working, more often than not, with the third team defense, but his recent run of success has caused a bit of camp stir.

In particular, it stirred up the depth chart. With Aqib Talib on the sideline with a sore hamstring the past three days, Lewis has moved up a couple notches to work with the first-team defense.

That trend isn't likely to continue long-term, but could mean Lewis has taken the inside track on the battle for the third cornerback position.

That's a critical spot in the Tampa Bay defense because that player replaces starter Eric Wright as the right cornerback against three-receiver formations, when Wright moves into the slot.

The Bucs have had a hard time filling that role in recent years, but Lewis suddenly looks like he might be up to the challenge, which is the result of more than just an increase in his confidence.

"I'm healthy again, and that's the biggest thing," said Lewis, who was slowed during training camp and beyond as a rookie by a nagging abdominal strain and last year by a persistent hamstring strain.

"When you've got a hamstring injury, it's hard to go out there and cover receivers and really show a team what you've got, but right now my legs feel fine and that's giving me a chance to play hard and fast again.''

The last time Lewis had a chance to play hard and fast was at Vanderbilt, where he recorded 10 interceptions and five sacks during a career in which he started 36 straight games and earned second-team All-SEC honors as a senior.

The Bucs expected similar, if not better, results from Lewis. That they haven't seen them bothers not just the Bucs but Lewis, who said his first two NFL seasons were nothing short of "frustrating.''

"It's been frustrating for everyone because the team really doesn't know what I can do,'' he said. "But they drafted me for a reason, and so I'm just trying to use my attributes to the best of my ability.''

He has been succeeding in that endeavor, not just against the pass but also against the run. During another 11-on-11 drill, Lewis knifed through the offensive line and stopped rookie running back Doug Martin for a loss.

That play drew raves from the coaches, as well, but Lewis is hardly a finished product. Though he wouldn't get specific, coach Greg Schiano said Lewis has some bad technique habits he needs to correct before he can be the player the Bucs need.

If Lewis can make those corrections, though, he could be an effective corner, Schiano said, because he has some attributes that give him an edge a lot of other corners don't get.

"You can't coach his (size), and that's big because there are a lot of plays that you miss by just (a foot),'' Schiano said. "So, a longer guy like him, maybe he doesn't miss those plays.

"But at the end of the day, you still have to do it technically right to have a chance and that's what he needs to work on. But he's been improving every day. I thought he started slow, but he is getting better every day.''


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979 Twitter: RCummingsTrib

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