Indiana's Lewis gets conditioned to wide receiver

March, 27, 2009
3/27/09
3:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Kellen Lewis has wrong-footed defenders for 1,677 rush yards and 17 touchdowns in his Indiana career, numbers that seem to reflect an athlete in peak physical condition.

But Lewis is feeling a bit like a couch potato next to the guys in his newest position group.

"I haven't played wide receiver since sophomore year of high school," Lewis said, "so if you want to be honest about it, I haven't ran a full-out sprint in practice for six or seven years now. You can be a fast quarterback, but you get one burst-out sprint, and then you get a rest. At wide receiver, you've got to run back to the ball.

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Kellen Lewis has embraced the switch from quarterback to wideout.

"I've always thought of myself as being in pretty good shape, but I've figured out now that I need to get in great shape."

There isn't a more significant position change in the Big Ten this spring than Lewis' full-time move to wide receiver. The move could result in major gains for Indiana. It also could underscore what the Hoosiers are losing in the backfield.

Lewis isn't some clipboard carrier. He's a senior only one year removed from earning second-team All-Big Ten honors ... as a quarterback. He has thrown for 6,395 yards and 48 touchdowns ... as a quarterback. He owns 16 school records ... as a quarterback, including the following:

  • career passing touchdowns (48) and career completions (565)
  • single-season marks for passing touchdowns (28), total touchdowns (37), passing yards (3,043), total yards (3,779), pass attempts (442), completions (265, completion percentage (60) -- all set during the 2007 campaign
  • 300-yard passing games (4)
  • 200-yard passing games (17)
  • joins former Big Ten MVP Antwaan Randle El as the only Indiana quarterbacks to record at least 40 passing touchdowns, 6,250 passing yards, 8,000 total yards, 525 completions and 975 attempts in a career

And yet, here's how Lewis describes his current role on the team.

"Just a wide receiver," he said.

Things could change sometime before Indiana opens the season Sept. 3, but Lewis is fully focused on wide receiver and making the necessary strides to be a major contributor on the other end of the passing attack. He saw some time at receiver in 2008, recording two catches, but started nine games at quarterback.

But last year was an experiment. This year, hopefully, will be a solution.

The decision to move Lewis wasn't hasty or impulsive. It took about a month of talks between Lewis, head coach Bill Lynch and Hoosiers assistant coaches before the switch became final about two weeks before spring break.

"I didn't have a good year, the team didn't have a good year," said Lewis, who battled injuries last fall and saw his numbers dip from 2007. "They said, 'If you were going to play another position, what would it be?' And I told them wide receiver. That's the only position I've really played consistently.

"I felt like if I was at wide receiver, if I got the ball in my hands it might be a little bit easier to try to dodge 300-pound down linemen and 250-pound linebackers and then get to the secondary. If you give me a 12-yard head start, I might get to the end zone a little more often. I said, 'I don't have any issue with it. I think it's a great idea.' And again, it wasn't a snappy decision."

The switch surprised some, and Lewis even had to reassure his mother that the move was done in his and the team's best interests. He also spoke frequently with offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

"He said, 'Is this what you want?'" Lewis recalled. "And I said, 'Oh, yeah, I'm up for it.' And he said, 'Remember now, you're still a quarterback. You've got to remember all the plays.' I'm not going to lose all that.

"It's a win-win right now. And we'll see in the fall. I'm hoping that this might be one of the best decisions we ever made. ... If things are working out, maybe I can get a whole little section in the playbook."

Lewis platooned with Ben Chappell last year at quarterback and works closely with the junior, who began spring ball Tuesday as the starter.

Chappell loses his top target Ray Fisher, who, like Lewis, made a senior-year position switch (from wide receiver to cornerback). As a result, the Big Ten's ninth-rated pass offense needs playmakers, and Lewis hopes he can blend his quarterback instincts with his natural athleticism.

"Playing quarterback, you know the timing, especially on certain routes," Lewis said. "I remembered when I wanted the receiver to be there in that hole, and then when they weren't there, I made the read to throw it a little bit harder. Playing with Ben, I know when he's about to throw the ball. Just running routes, coming of the break knowing when he likes to throw the ball, helps out so much."

Lewis also is being auditioned as a return man for punts and kickoffs. He last played special teams as a high school junior, and only served as a holder on field goals. This is quite a bit different.

It's all part of an extreme makeover, and Lewis welcomes his new look.

"With the position changes, it kind of gives everyone the fresh new look, the fresh face, the fresh hope, however you want to put it," he said. "When you go 3-9, you've got to change something."

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