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    Lewis in position to make Jenkins irrelevant

    By Steve Reed
    June 8, 2007 - 2:51PM

    CHARLOTTE — With Kris Jenkins’ future with the Carolina Panthers up in the air, last year’s top backup defensive tackle, Damione Lewis, is practicing like a guy who’s ready to start in 2007.

    And he’s doing so feeling better than he has in years.

    Lewis is coming off offseason shoulder surgery that has left him feeling like a new man.

    It’s an injury that dates back to his third year in the league (2003) and one that he’s addressed in the past through rehab. However, after banging it in a Week 5 game against Cleveland, Lewis ultimately decided it was time to have surgery.

    “It seemed like every week it was just consistently getting worse,” Lewis said.

    Lewis stuck it out, playing the full 16 games but his production tailed off as the season progressed. In his first 10 games he had 23 tackles and 4.5 sacks; in the last six he had seven tackles and no sacks.

    Lewis said it was a decent season, but added: “It could have been a lot better.”

    But some of that can be attributed to the shoulder problems.

    Shortly after the season he had bone spurs removed.

    “I spent a lot of time in the training room just getting it to where I was able to go out and perform on Sunday,” Lewis said. “Then it started all over again on Monday with the training room, building it back up for the next game. I’ve got all that behind me, so I’m excited about that. Now I’ve got a full range of motion, something I didn’t have last year. It feels pretty good. It’s feeling a lot better, still working through some kinks with it, but it feels a hell of lot better now than it did last year at this time.”

    That’s a good thing.

    “D-Lew,” as his teammates call him, needs to stay healthy and turn in a big season.

    A former first-round draft pick in 2001 by the St. Louis — selected one spot behind college teammate Dan Morgan — Lewis spent five relatively disappointing seasons with the Rams before he was allowed to hit the free agent market. He signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Panthers in 2006 hoping that by moving to a defensive-minded team it might revitalize his career.

    With his contract up at the end of this season, Lewis could cash in next spring if he produces on the field.

    His preference is to stay in Carolina, but much of that will depend on how Jenkins’ situation plays out.

    Jenkins, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has missed the first two weeks of voluntary minicamp and his agent Tony Paige has indicated his client would like a new contract. It’s quite possible Jenkins could skip training camp if he doesn’t get a new deal, opening the door for Lewis to start.

    “I’m in more of a relaxed defensive atmosphere and they are more tuned to getting you in different things and getting the line moving, more so than what we did in St. Louis,” Lewis said. “I just feel I’m able to take advantage of that. The change of scenery was good, going from an offensive ball club to a defensive ball club and that makes all the difference in the world. You know, everything here is defense first. And now they’re making the change for offense and they’re looking spectacular, you know, but we have an established defense here and it’s been established.

    “When I was in St. Louis we used to watch this team a lot and they played the game the way it was supposed to be played. As a defensive player on a team that’s an offensive minded team, you admire the way Carolina played defense. It was a big deal for me, I wanted to come here as a free agent and I got the opportunity to.”


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    Re: Lewis in position to make Jenkins irrelevant

    It seems like D-Lew has had a lot of injuries (excusses also) and still has not proved he can be a starter after several years in the league. He does have one mean Nut Cracker move though. I know I would not want him to try it out on me.

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