Keith Lewis reins himself in
UO defensive back plans to be more reserved on and off the field
EUGENE Ñ It has not been an easy 12 months for Keith Lewis.
The Oregon free safety watched in disbelief last season Ñ and ran after his share of receivers Ñ as opposing offenses shredded the Ducks' secondary for 26 touchdowns and an average of 378 yards in seven of their eight Pacific-10 Conference games. (Stanford, by far the Pac-10's worst passing team, managed only 92 yards against the Ducks.)
In a radio interview last season, Lewis called Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser ordinary and said the Ducks considered Pullman their back yard. In the same interview, he called Washington QB Cody Pickett overrated.
Gesser responded by tossing four touchdown passes in a win over the Ducks. And Pickett threw for 316 yards and two TDs, and Reggie Williams embarrassed the UO pass defense with 14 catches and 198 yards receiving as UW made Autzen Stadium its back yard.
UO coach Mike Bellotti put the muzzle on Lewis, but not before Lewis said he wanted to leave Oregon for the NFL. Only after the Ducks' season-ending loss to Wake Forest did Lewis find out that NFL teams probably would take him no higher than the fourth round, or later. So he decided to return for his senior season.
Then, just after spring ball ended, Lewis punched Oregon track athlete Brandon Holliday. Originally charged with second-degree assault, Lewis got the charge lessened to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault. As part of the plea agreement, the wannabe cop served 10 days on a work crew, did 60 hours of community service and paid a $500 fine.
He is on two years' probation. He cannot buy, possess or consume alcohol until his probation ends. Bellotti says Lewis will perform 'team obligations' for his role in the attack but won't be suspended.
Needless to say, Lewis has been humbled.
'It brought me back to earth,' he says.
'It took up a lot of my summer, but it's something that I had to do,' Lewis adds. 'It sucks that it happened, but it's probably good for me. I learned a lesson about my temper. I'm a guy who likes to have fun. I don't have off-the-field problems.
'I have two years' probation, but am I worried? No. I've never been in trouble off the field in my life.'
He says the lessened charge eventually will be removed from his record, and he can pursue his dream of being in law enforcement.
Lewis hasn't talked with Holliday. 'Not much to say,' he says. 'I don't know if communication would be good or bad.'
In the meantime, Lewis plans to be the enforcer in Oregon's reconstituted defensive backfield. The Ducks have a new secondary coach in John Neal; new cornerbacks in the mix in Rodney Woods, Marc Walker and Ryan Gilliam; and incumbent starters in Steven Moore, Aaron Gipson and Marques Binns ÑÊthe latter three with one monumental learning year behind them.
'They needed that year,' says Lewis, who played despite a nagging foot injury last season. 'Now they're ready to play. Everybody got faster and stronger, and I think the confidence really went up. They know they have something to prove.'
The Ducks plan to use different schemes that will provide the cornerbacks with help, which means Lewis will be busy. Marley Tucker is likely to start at rover next to him.
Lewis, who usually has been concerned with stopping the run, has been told he will play some nickel back and will be involved in some blitzes.
The 6-1, 200-pound Lewis has been placed on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list as one of the country's top defensive backs. Yet you won't hear him tooting his own horn these days. He plans to be more reserved with his mouth, on and off the field.
'I think I'm going to be low-key this year,' he says. 'Going to relax and let my actions talk. I'm concentrating on the game.'
Notes: Wouldn't an injury to Samie Parker be disastrous for the Ducks? With Keith Allen gone after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee last week, Kellen Taylor still trying to finish academic requirements, Jordan Carey pulling his hamstring in camp and fellow freshmen Garren Strong and Kyle Weatherspoon nursing injuries, the Duck receiver corps depends on the health of Parker and Demetrius Williams. Sounds like an opportune time for junior college transfer Marcus Maxwell to establish himself.
Allen missed four games last year because of a sprained medial collateral ligament and had been sidelined by hamstring troubles. 'There's probably another (injury) I'm forgetting,' he said in April.
The Ducks began practicing in pads on Sunday and began two-a-day practices on Monday; they'll do two-a-days on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the next two weeks. É The team will scrimmage at 3:15 p.m. Saturday and have a 'fan day' from 10 a.m. to noon on Aug. 23.