LAKE FOREST – Travis Smith could see the potential.
When the Bears signed defensive end Terrell Lewis to the practice squad in December, with only weeks remaining in the 2022 season, he could immediately see why general manager Ryan Poles liked the new addition.
“If you look at him, the No. 1 thing is get off,” said Smith, the Bears defensive line coach.
When the Bears signed Lewis to the practice squad, they were playing the long game. It wasn’t just about adding depth for December 2022. They were thinking beyond that. They signed him to the active roster ahead of the season finale, but the real work began in the offseason.
The results have been apparent on the field. In two preseason games, Lewis has three sacks, two forced fumbles and a tackle for loss. He’s making life uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks. He has been one of the surprise stars of the preseason for the Bears.
During Saturday’s preseason loss to the Colts, Lewis forced a strip sack against Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
“[I’m] just really focusing in on getting off the football,” Lewis said of the play. “And then once I kind of got to his level, [I] felt him turn, felt like I could bend around the edge and chop his arm down and then just burst it from there. I’m trying to make it a habit of going for the football.”
It certainly appears to be becoming a habit.
Lewis, 24, was a 2020 third-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams. He won Super Bowl LVI with the Rams and won a national championship with Alabama in college. For much of his career, injuries have been what has held him back from his full potential.
Lewis tore his ACL at Alabama and missed half of his rookie season due to injury. But then he was also playing for a loaded Rams defense in 2021 and 2022. In three seasons, he appeared in 30 games and totaled seven starts. He had just six sacks during that time.
Smith said the Bears loved Lewis’ quick first step. The 6-foot-5, 262-pound defensive end had to show that he could do it consistently.
“It’s not just about get off, it’s also about playing with relentless effort for five to 45 snaps,” Smith said. “It’s also about setting the edge. There’s a lot more to it than just the get off. And so, I think with him being in our system now, where he’s been here through OTAs, phase one, phase two, phase three, training camp, now you’re seeing it all kind of come together.”
The preseason results mirror what has gone on in practice throughout training camp. The dude in the No. 52 jersey keeps finding his way to the quarterback. When the Bears released their first depth chart, they had Lewis ahead of veteran edge rusher Trevis Gipson for a spot on the third team.
Lewis appears to be a good depth piece behind expected starters Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker. Veteran free agent Rasheem Green has also played well, and the Bears are not likely to give up on 2022 fifth-round draft pick Dominique Robinson yet.
Lewis, though, could be in the mix for a spot on the 53-man roster. At this point, it might be a surprise if he doesn’t make the team next week.
“I would be surprised, but at the same time I know how the business goes. So, that’s why I just continue to focus on what can I do and control, day in and day out.”— Terrell Lewis, Bears defensive end
“I would be surprised, but at the same time I know how the business goes,” Lewis said. “So, that’s why I just continue to focus on what can I do and control, day in and day out. Because at the end of the day, especially during the preseason, you’re not only playing for yourself and the organization you’re with, but you’re also playing for every other team in the league.”
NFL teams must cut their rosters from 90 players to 53 on Aug. 29.