By John Boyle Herald Writer
RENTON — This summer, the question about Roy Lewis was whether or not he would make Seattle’s 53-man roster.
Sunday, the question is whether or not Lewis, a former Husky, will start at cornerback.
The fact that Lewis has a good chance at starting in Oakland this weekend is not only an indication that the Seahawks are banged up at cornerback, it also shows just how impressive Lewis’ rise has been from undrafted free agent to key contributor to an NFL defense.
Kelly Jennings, Seattle’s starter at right cornerback, missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury, and did not practice again this week. Rookie Walter Thurmond filled in for Jennings and played very well, but suffered a head injury and also sat out the week of practice. Both are officially listed as questionable, but given their lack of activity this week, the likelihood is that Lewis will make his first NFL start on Sunday.
Lewis, whose final year at Washington was a rather forgettable 4-9 2007 season, went undrafted and signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent. He spent most of that year on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, then came to Seattle last season where he played nine games on special teams. This season, Lewis earned a roster spot with his special teams play — he was named the team’s special teams captain before the start of the season — and has also become a big part of the defense, particularly in third down packages.
Now, all signs point to Lewis making his first career start.
“Roy has been playing all year long,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s been doing a nice job for us. So for him just to move over is not a big deal.”
By move over, Carroll is referring to Lewis moving from playing in the middle of the field when the Seahawks have more than two cornerbacks on the field to playing on the outside when Seattle has its base defense on the field. Lewis played some on the outside in training camp and the preseason, but since the season started he has stuck to the inside while Marcus Trufant, Jennings and Thurmond played on the outside.
“It’s just a different mentality,” Lewis said of the move. “…Since the season started, I’ve been inside, so my work load will be a little different. The vision changes, the technique changes, and the mental game definitely changes.”
While Carroll said he is comfortable with Lewis in the starting lineup, and that the Seahawks wouldn’t have to game-plan to help him, they may have to make adjustments on special teams if Lewis is on the field for almost every down on defense, as a typical starting corner is. Lewis is part of the Seahawks’ kick coverage, punt coverage, kick return and punt return teams, which in combination with 50 or more snaps on defense would create a very heavy work load.
“The work load could get overwhelming, but I think I’m in great shape as far as that’s concerned,” Lewis said. “…I’m not expecting to play as much special teams because I’m carrying such a heavy work load as far as downs one through three, but who knows? If they need me, they know I’m more than willing to go out there and play hard.”
Carroll said the Seahawks would likely spell Lewis both by mixing in Kennard Cox and Nate Ness at cornerback, and by limiting his role on special teams.
“He’s been such a factor in special teams for us, he’s done such a great job there,” Carroll said. “He’s been on and off the field a lot, so he’s had breaks. So that’s the steadiness and the focus that it takes to play for 60 plays or so, that’s different.”
Different, but a challenge the former undrafted free agent is more than happy to meet head on.
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, who has missed two games with a calf injury, did not practice again this week and is listed as questionable. If Mebane can’t play, that will be a blow to the Seahawks, who have the No. 2 run defense in the league and will be tested by Oakland, which has the league’s third-best run offense.
Left tackle Russell Okung also is listed as questionable, but it seems highly unlikely the rookie will play only a week after suffering a high ankle sprain. He did not practice this week.
Also listed as questionable are receiver Brandon Stokley (oblique), linebacker Matt McCoy (hamstring), and running back Michael Robinson (hamstring). Stokley and McCoy were able to practice on a limited basis Friday after missing the previous two days of practice.
Pitts ready to play?
Guard/tackle Chester Pitts has been close to game-ready for a while now, but hasn’t quite been able to make it onto the field. That could change Sunday for Pitts, who had microfracture knee surgery last year.
“Chester had by far his best week,” Carroll said. “He practiced right with everybody else, full-flight. I would love to see him play in this game. It’s about time Chester plays now… He’s going to dress in this game and we’re looking forward to getting him in. This will be really the first time we get him in live action, but he’s deserved it by the way he’s worked and he’s stepped up.”
Even if Pitts is able to play, he will not start, Carroll said, but the Seahawks may try to get him in for some action at left guard. Pitts would likely also be the No. 2 option at left tackle behind Tyler Polumbus assuming Okung can’t play.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog