NFL Running Back Dion Lewis: From Pitt to Philadelphia

In 2009 when Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy declared early for the NFL Draft, many wondered how true freshman Dion Lewis could possibly replace an NFL-ready running back. McCoy had rushed for almost 1500 yards in his sophomore year and decided to ride that success to the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles.  And while there was excitement around Lewis,  no one expected anyone to come anywhere close to McCoy’s production right away, especially not a guy who had just arrived on campus.  Not only did Lewis surpass expectations, he surpassed McCoy, rushing for 1800 yards and winning Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. And just like his predecessor, after his sophomore year, he declared for the NFL draft and was chosen by none other than the Philadelphia Eagles.

The CFB Girl:  Let’s start with the scouting reports.  Some have described you as shifty. To me shiftiness means you are tricky or have a deceptive character.  What does this mean in football speak?

Lewis:  Shiftiness pretty much means that you’ve got quick feet and you’re able to allude defenders and not take a big hit.

The CFB Girl: You do that well?

Lewis: Yes, ma’am.

The CFB Girl: Is this natural or acquired?

Lewis:  It’s a little bit of both being natural and working on it.  In the off season I do a lot of agility drills, which help me with my shiftiness.

The CFB Girl:  Is that what they used to have us do in gym class or is a bit higher level?

LewisMuch [emphasized] higher level things.  Doing cuts at full speed and ladder drills and things like that.

NFL DB Donovin Darius Demonstrates Ladder Drill (courtesy SI.com)

TheCFBGirl: And what do plan on working  on in the off season?

Lewis: I’ll work on getting a little bit stronger.  And work on the mental stuff—like getting in the playbook more and being a student of the game.

The CFB Girl:  How much harder the play book in the NFL compared to college?

Lewis:  It’s harder.  There’s a lot more stuff to memorize.  There’s a lot more complex stuff.

The CFB Girl:  I was given a playbook from someone recently and I was overwhelmed.  I don’t think people realize how difficult it is.  How much of a mental game would you say football is?

Lewis:  It’s a lot of mental work.  It’s actually a lot like school, like studying for a test.  In school you just take the test.  Whereas in football, you’re performing the test, which is a lot harder because you can’t really think as much when you’re on the field.  You just have got to know it so well you just go out and do it instead of thinking.  Because if you’re thinking, you’re not playing to your full potential.

The CFB Girl:  Speaking of your full potential, you had two incredible years at Pitt, what do you miss most about being in school?

Lewis:  Just my teammates—we were like a family there and I miss the guys.

The CFB Girl:  What about your teammates now—especially running back LeSean McCoy who you followed at Pitt and then Ronnie Brown…how is it playing alongside someone who went to Auburn?  Is he super annoying about their 2010 Championship?

Lewis:  Nah, he’s not like that. He’s actually a really nice guy.  He helps me out a lot. He’s been in our league for seven years so he’s one of the guys I ask for a lot information from—I ask him a lot of questions.

The CFB Girl:  Do you get a chance to watch Pitt games?

Lewis:  I had a chance to watch a couple.

The CFB Girl:  Talk about the change this year with the switch from Dave Wannstedt as head coach to Todd Graham (former Tulsa head coach)?

Lewis:  I feel like the guys are still trying to get used to things because the offense right now is completely different from what we did last year so it’s a lot of transition for those guys to go through.

The CFB Girl:  How exactly does the offense differ?

Lewis:  When I was there it was more of a pro-style offense with play-action passes and things like that—running the ball, power football.  Now they’re more of a spread you out, quick-paced, no huddle team so it’s a lot different.

[Graham’s offense was dominant at Tulsa as their up-tempo approach was first in the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008. His offensive coordinator during those years, Guz Malzhan, is now known for providing the means for making Cam Newton unstoppable last year and leading Auburn to a national championship].

The CFB Girl:  Have you played in a no-huddle-spread-offense?

Lewis:  Never

The CFB Girl:  What offense are you best suited for?

Lewis:  My skill set fits more of a pro-style offense.


The CFB Girl:  In terms of statistics, we look at yards, touchdowns and yards per carry.  But just because we don’t count it in fantasy football, doesn’t mean it’s not important—what besides those measurables indicate a running back is talented?

Lewis: Being able to make people miss—to make people miss tackles.  That’s something I can do pretty well.

The CFB Girl:  What do you look for when you’re watching football?

Lewis:  When I’m watching a game, I look for what guys do that are different than other people and for when guys do things that other people can’t do.  Like make a great catch or make a great cut.

The CFB Girl:  How much of an impact does the speed of the defenses you see in the NFL have?

Lewis It’s a big impact.  The game is faster than college obviously. But after a while, the more you go through it and the more reps you get, it starts to slow down a little bit.

The CFB Girl: Talk about what you see when you’re on the field.

Lewis:  Since I have great vision I’m able to see things on the field and remember what happened.  It’s hard to explain because it’s more of a natural thing.

The CFB Girl:  For running backs in college right now, what is the thing that separates the NFL prospects and makes them stand out from the rest?

LewisTalent. If you’re good people are going to know you’re good and you’re going to get a chance.  And if you work hard that’s going to happen at all.  Just try to make your weaknesses into strengths and that’s all you can really do and let your play speak for itself.

[Hmmm, I wonder how I can turn Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Fendi into strengths?]

The CFB Girl:  What is the single most important factor to aiding in the success of the running game? The running back? The Linemen? The full back?

Lewis:  Just everyone working as one.  All 11 guys working as one.  The linemen blocking well, the receivers blocking downfield and the running back going where you’re supposed to go and making the right decisions with the ball.

The CFB Girl:  Would you say that the running game opens up the passing game or that the passing game opens the running game?

Lewis:  It can be both. It can go both ways.  The passing game can definitely open up the running game and the running game can open up the passing game because if you’re able to do both it helps a lot because a defense can’t stop both.

The CFB Girl:  Very diplomatic.  Thanks for breaking it all down so well.

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