He is a rookie defensive back out of Michigan State with glittering credentials. Forty career starts…eight interceptions…and three seasons where he earned All-Big Ten status including first-team honors as a senior.
And he is not Cincinnati’s first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard.
Safety Isaiah Lewis was Dennard’s teammate with the Spartans and signed with the Bengals after the draft as a college free agent. He’ll try to follow in the footsteps of current and former Bengals like Vontaze Burfict, Vinny Rey, Jeromy Miles, and Kyle Cook who made the team and became key contributors despite going undrafted.
“I hear free agent and I’m like whaaat?” Michigan State secondary coach Harlon Barnett told MLive.com. “I guess some people don’t know. He will play a long time. Isaiah and Darqueze are the two best I’ve ever coached.”
“The draft is really weird,” said Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. “After you get past the third or fourth round, it’s really a matter of taste for what each team wants. I’m not sure why he didn’t get drafted, but he played at a high level on a very good defense and played against top competition. I’m excited about him.”
“The Bengals didn’t draft a safety, so I felt like I had a good chance to showcase my abilities here,” Lewis told me. “It seemed like a good place for me to come. With guys like Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall, and Pac Man (Jones), I feel like I can learn from those guys and make my game that much better.
“It’s like being a freshman all over again. Coming in as a new guy, I’m just trying to learn from the older guys. It’s a good team with a good family foundation. Guys help you learn what’s going on and accept you into the family.”
Lewis’ draft stock was undoubtedly hurt by his lack of size – he’s 5’10”, 211 pounds. But he was a three-year starter at Michigan State and known as a ferocious hitter.
“There are certain guys I call certain things, and Isaiah is what I call a natural born killer as far as his hitting ability on the football field,” Barnett told MLive.com. “He’s going to come and hit you all day every day. There’s not many of them in the NFL. You get him, you got a football player.”
“At safety you’ve got to be aggressive,” said Lewis. “You have to be a stop sign because when things get to you, you’re the last line of defense. There has to be an intimidation factor for receivers to let them know that nothing is going to cross the middle of the field – that’s my area and you’re not just going to cross through.”
In addition to trying to show that he can help the secondary, Lewis knows that his chances of making the team will depend heavily on his ability to contribute on special teams.
“That’s the most important thing,” Isaiah said. “That’s the way you get your teammates and your coaches to have confidence in you. Special teams is going to come first and once they get comfortable with me being out of the field and trust that I know what to do, then I’ll take the next step when I step on to the field with the defense.”
At least one prominent football reporter thinks that Lewis has a shot in Cincinnati. CBSSports.com’s senior NFL columnist Pete Prisco recently Tweeted about the Bengals rookie.
Curious to see how Michigan State’s Isaiah Lewis does after signing FA with Bengals. Kid has some talent.
— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) June 2, 2014
“They do have a talented player,” said Lewis when I told him about Prisco’s Tweet. “He’s not mistaken in saying that.”
“I tell you what; Isaiah Lewis had been a pleasant surprise,” said Joseph. “We knew when we signed him as a free agent that he was a good player, but I think he’s better than we thought. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to play in the preseason and prove his worth.”
“I had to look to see what was the best spot for me,” Lewis told me. “I felt like this was the best fit and I’m happy I made this choice.”
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