WESTFIELD, Ind. — The incredible highs and disheartening lows intermixed in the blink of an eye.
Well, they engulfed Tyquan Lewis in the span of roughly 50 seconds of actual game time.
“Right,” he said.
Lewis sighed. Then he smiled, because he’s always smiling.
“I’m always here to brighten somebody’s day,” he said. “I just try to be a great person.”
But back on point.
It was Week 8 of last year’s NFL season. The Indianapolis Colts held a 14-7 lead over AFC South rival Tennessee at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Titans faced a 3rd-and-11 at their own 45.
It was 3rd-and-11 and not something more manageable for the Titans because Lewis had smothered Ryan Tannehill for a second-down sack.
But Lewis’ world was about to be turned on its head.
The 2018 2nd-round draft pick, and 64th overall selection, lined up inside as part of the Colts’ third-down pass-rush assault. Instead of rushing, he dropped into coverage and came up with the highlight of his 4-year career.
Lewis secured his first NFL interception, cut to his right and looked for a convoy of blockers.
A few steps into his return, though, he crumbled to the turf and grabbed his right knee. Erin Barill, the team’s director of sports medicine, was one of the first to reach Lewis, who said he still was in a state of shock.
“EB comes out and he looks at me, I look at him and he’s like, ‘It’s your patellar, buddy’,” Lewis said. “I just looked at him and was like, ‘Well, here we are.’
“I cracked a smile and looked up in the sky and . . . I’m a thankful man,” Lewis continued. “I cherish every moment: good, bad, ugly. It doesn’t matter what it is in my life, I cherish every moment because it has made me who I am.”
“Overcoming obstacles – whatever it is in life – you need to get through it,” he said. “Just cherish it, because that grind will never go away.”
As it turned out, Lewis felt a twinge, something not right, with his right knee two plays before his patellar exploded.
“I can replay exactly what happened,” he said. “I remember when I tore it initially. It was like two plays before. I felt it. Something was off. Then I got the sack and the next play I catch the interception. I was like ‘I’m feeling good.’ Running with the ball, I’m running slow.”
Again, Lewis laughed.
“Then I felt something go away from me,” he continued. “I was like ‘What’s going on?'”
“Then, boom, it happened.”
Lewis’ latest grind has consisted of months of rehab. He opened training camp on the physically unable to perform, or PUP, list, but was added to the active roster on July 27.
The deeper the Colts get into camp at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, the more reps he is getting.
“It’s great. I feel great. Knee’s great,” he said. “I couldn’t be any more proud of where I’m at right now. It’s been a long offseason, I guess you could say. I’ve worked extremely hard to get back to where I was.”
Gus Bradley’s front-four is set and formidable with Yannick Ngakoue, DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart and Kwity Paye.
But the strength of any position group is the quality of the depth. Dayo Odeyingbo, the 2021 second-round pick, should offer strength as an edge rusher.
Lewis offers a little bit of everything.
“End or tackle, I play either way,” he said with that infectious smile. “I’m a defensive lineman. I mean, I’m still versatile. I still run fast.”
He insisted he recently hit 20 miles per hour with whatever apparatus measures player speed.
That reflects the speed of Lewis’ rehab.
“He’s done well with it,” Colts Head Coach Frank Reich said. “It’s hard. It’s a hard surgery, hard recovery, but to his credit, he’s done well, especially to me in the last week. It just feels like he’s maybe a step ahead of when we got him back into it. We just thought maybe let’s go slow, but I think he’s doing well and we’ll keep progressing it day-by-day a little bit at a time.”
Reich said he has probably thought about the play Lewis went down “100 times this offseason, and it was just one of those freak things.”
Imagine, if Lewis doesn’t lose a fumble on his interception and Tennessee regains possession at its own 43, the Colts very likely would have headed into halftime with at least a 17-7 lead, perhaps 21-7. Instead, the Titans scored on the ensuing play when Tannehill’s simple sideline flip to A.J. Brown turned into a 57-yard touchdown thanks to Xavier Rhodes’ weak tackle attempt.
From 14-all, the Titans went on to a 34-31 overtime victory.
On the individual level, Lewis’ season-ending injury came at the most inopportune time. He was in the final year of his rookie deal.
Even so, General Manager Chris Ballard remained convinced Lewis was worth retaining. He signed him to a one-year, $2.275 million contract.
“Tyquan Lewis is a good player,” Ballard said during the offseason.
The one-year deal, Lewis said, “means Chris and everyone around are like, ‘We’re going to give him a chance.’ They believed in me and I’m very appreciative of that. Chris believed when I didn’t sometimes.”
Lewis is something of a private person. Even so, during the 2020 offseason, he opened up. He went into detail about how he focused on his mental well-being and his self-confidence.
He is light years removed from the unsure player who managed just 18 total tackles and 2 sacks in 17 games during his first two injury-marred seasons.
“When you go through everything you go through from college and your first two years, it’s like, ‘OK, how do we put this all together?’,” Lewis said. “I’m not really open about who I am as a person. I’m not a social media person. I’m not really that guy.”
“I’m an honest dude who’s trying to be a great person.”
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.