PULLMAN – So loquacious is Mike Leach that he’s sure to have a clever way to describe the game of freshman receiver Robert Lewis, a slight, super-quick athlete who’s been working into Washington State’s receiver rotation through the team’s first five practices this spring.
But Lewis’ most important asset is so simple that Leach spits it out as if reciting a fact he’s known his whole life.
“Fast,” the coach said. “Fast. Ahead of schedule. Needs to learn stuff for it to become automatic, (but) he’s pretty smart and he’s picked it up pretty quick.”
Lewis’ speed adds an element to WSU’s receiver corps that hasn’t necessarily been there in recent years, even if it might take a while for the newcomer to get a hang of the Cougars’ offense and earn his way onto the field.
He has so far, at least. There are times when teammates have to help him with some of the offensive signals, Lewis said, but there have also been times when his shiftiness has frustrated WSU defenders during team sessions.
“Avoiding people, my speed, my cuts,” Lewis said. “I try to use that to my advantage.”
Lewis, a native of South Gate, Calif., grayshirted last year instead of enrolling at WSU because coaches wanted him to add weight and strength.
He needed to. Lewis is listed now at 5-foot-9, 152 pounds, and said he put on “a good 15 or 20” in the time since he graduated from high school.
His thin build is of concern to Leach only because “you worry about him getting rerouted. But he’s pretty elusive, so it’s hard to put a hand on him. And then, of course, there’s the fear that he’ll run past you, which he might anyway.”
And, Leach said, the whole skinny thing “worked good for DeSean Jackson, so we’ll see what happens.”
Lewis said he spent the last several months at home in California, working out with friends on cone and speed drills to stay sharp before his January arrival in Pullman.
He’s also adjusting to a relatively new position, because he played running back in high school.
“But our offense was a spread offense, so they kind of moved me around everywhere,” Lewis said. “I’m kind of familiar with receiver, but I mostly played running back. It was a spread type of offense and it was a no-huddle, so it was similar.”
Lewis’ speed has also made him an early candidate to return kicks and punts, though special teams coach Eric Russell said it’s hard to tell yet whether Lewis might be a factor at those positions.
“He’s in the mix of about three or four guys,” Russell said. “And certainly it’s something we’re hoping he can do.”
“Punt (return) is different from high school,” Lewis said. “They’re way higher, so I’m just getting used to catching the ball right, catching it, knowing when to fair catch it, where to catch it and stuff like that.”
The Cougars posted a team grade-point average of 2.66 during the fall semester, which a WSU spokesperson said is the highest since the school began keeping records in 1980.
Leach thinks it can be higher. He also went on a tangent.
“Happy about it, but we talked about this: if everybody got one grade higher, if the whole group got one grade higher, we’d probably lead the nation. That’s more within striking distance than a person would think. I’ve been a part of it three times. If you get somewhere between 2.9 and 3.0, 3.0 and change, you’ll lead the nation in the public institutions. The privates? Who knows what kind of mischief they’re up to. I mean, they hide their books and everything else, so they’d probably be a little more forthcoming if they weren’t hiding something. So I think they warrant suspicion.”
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