The Raiders rookie linebacker was awarded a three-year, low-cost deal following an excellent mini-camp. An explosive two sack performance in his first pre-season game means Raiders fans are now bound to be asking: who is LaTroy Lewis?
Who Is LaTroy Lewis?
The Raiders lost their first preseason game 20-10. It was a disappointing loss, although it’s hard to read too much into a game where almost no established starters played a down. However, one of the bright spots was certainly the performance of LaTroy Lewis.
Lewis is an undrafted rookie from the University of Tennessee, where he was a five-year senior. His career with the Vols was unremarkable – he started only nine games in his junior and senior seasons combined. In his senior season, he recorded a total of two and a half sacks. He got within half of that total in one half of action last night. He’d never before got multiple sacks in a game. In fact, his four solo tackles tied any performance he managed in college. In his first NFL game, playing for just one half, he bettered any performance he managed during his college career.
Undrafted, he signed a three year deal with the Raiders in May, after a strong performance at rookie minicamp. He wasn’t even listed on the official rookie mini-camp roster, because he was only there on a tryout basis. Whilst there’s clearly a long way to go for Lewis to make the final 53 man roster, he’s already impressed in his first NFL action.
At 6’3” and 254lbs, it isn’t his physical skills that got him signed. So, what clues were there that Lewis had the ability to reach this level of performance?
Team mate Kendal Vickers is on film as saying that Lewis is the smartest player on the Tennessee defense. “I actually think LaTroy is the smartest person on the team when it comes to scheme and techniques,” he says. “He’ll call out the plays before they even happen. That helps me a lot.”
Intelligence, and the ability to read what an offense is doing, is a critical benefit at the NFL level. With everything moving faster than college, rookies with the intelligence to process what is going on quickly will have crucial extra time. Whilst some players can get away simply by being physically stronger than the rest of their college opposition, that isn’t true at an NFL level (or rarely true anyway). Players who have the intellect to read the game quicker have a clear advantage.
Reggie McKensie seems to value players who have the ability to play multiple positions, particularly in his second and third stringers. The ability to cover at multiple positions is a skills that the Raiders have prized under McKensie. Lewis can certainly do this as he played outside linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle during his time with the Vols. In fact, despite being just 250lbs, Lewis had one of his best college games playing defensive tackle against Kentucky.
At that weight, it would be unlikely he’d be able to play tackle in the NFL, but his understanding of different positions, and ability to play with his hands in the dirt or stood up probably plays in his favour.
Despite not even been a full-time starter, Lewis played an active role in representing Tennessee on and off the field of play. In the first episode of Hard Knocks, Dirk Koetter talks about leaders not just being the first teamers. Lewis gives the impression of being that kind of character. He’s the sort of player who is active in his community, as you can see from his work with his organization Project Elevate. He seems like a high-character guy, a good team-mate who isn’t looking for personal glory. Putting the team ahead of yourself helps. It might help him make the final 53.
It’s one preseason game. Right now, all Lewis has done is guaranteed himself a few more reps in practice this week. But he picked the right time to play the best game of his life. It’s an amazing effort from an undrafted rookie. There’s a long way to go to make the team, but Lewis has done himself a lot of favours with this performance.
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