Tapping his talents
Journeyman Lewis the toast of Saints' camp
THIBODAUX, La. (AP) -- Sure, training camp leaves Michael Lewis sweating, sore, sleep deprived and anxious. On the other hand, earning a spot on the New Orleans Saints' roster means he could permanently quit his day job driving a beer truck.
Lewis, who only played flag football in high school and didn't go to college, was driving a beer delivery truck a couple of years ago, working 12-hour days hauling cases and kegs of beer around Baton Rouge.
Somewhere along his route Lewis heard that the Bayou Beast, the local Indoor Professional Football League team, was looking for players.
"I thought it sounded like it would be fun," said Lewis, who will be 30 in November and had already played for the semipro Kenner City Chiefs and a year for the New Orleans Thunder of the Regional Football League.
Lewis scored 23 touchdowns in 24 games with the Bayou Beast and earned $200 a game. That was not enough to give up his delivery job. Neither was the pay from his season with the New Jersey Red Dogs of the Arena League.
Lewis spent last summer in the Philadelphia Eagles training camp. In November, the Saints put him on their practice squad. This spring they sent him to the Rhine Fire of the NFL Europe. Now, Lewis is in camp with the Saints and aiming at a full-time job in the NFL.
"I just wanted to give myself an opportunity to see if I could make it," Lewis said. "I didn't want to sell myself short. I think I'm hungrier than some other guys because of the route I took to get here. I didn't want to ask myself later in life, 'What if I had tried?'"
If the fans were sizing up the players, Lewis might be in trouble.
"Who's that little player," asked a woman watching practice Wednesday as the team walked through the plays in shorts. "He looks like a kid."
Without his pads and helmet, Lewis stands a mere 5-foot-8 and weighs just 175 pounds, making him the smallest player in camp.
"Teams put a lot of emphasis on size, but I don't let that get to me," Lewis said. "If you're not big, you have to use your speed to your advantage -- especially on special teams. At my size it's hard for the other guy to get his hands on me. And I can use my speed to get around him and up the field."
So has he caught the coach's eye?
"Yeah," Jim Haslett said. "He runs a 4.3."
Lewis was timed at 4.35 seconds in the 40 on wet grass, a 4.2 on turf. Add to that quickness, hard work and a fearless approach to the game, and Lewis may not be as long a shot as many would believe.
In the Saints' first exhibition game against the Minnesota Vikings, Lewis returned a kickoff 56 yards, showing that he might contribute on special teams while improving as a receiver.
"On the kickoff team he went down there and made two tackles," Haslett said. "He sliced through like a seasoned veteran."
Lewis still has a lot to prove before he can count on catching footballs rather than delivering cold ones. But so far he hasn't disappointed receiver coach Hubbard Alexander.
"It's still early, but he's shown us some things," Alexander said. "Right now he's doing a pretty good job. He's certainly not just another training camp guy."
Lewis even has Haslett hoping that his days as the beer man are over.
"He's a guy you kind of root for," Haslett said.