TAMPA — Ask cornerback Myron Lewis to describe his brand of football, and the Bucs' third-round pick doesn't waver one bit with his answer.
"I can reroute receivers, get my hands on receivers and play press coverage," he said during the weekend's rookie minicamp.
Notice he said nothing about the more glorified aspects of his position such as interceptions. He's not averse to them. He just takes immense pride in the less-celebrated facets of his job.
That Lewis is willing to do the dirty work — actually, he revels in it — is partly why he's now a Buccaneer. His four interceptions and 12 pass deflections at Vanderbilt last season didn't prompt the Bucs to make him the 67th overall pick last month.
The reason the Bucs expect him to see extensive playing time this fall and, perhaps, replace Ronde Barber in the long term is he fits their profile so precisely.
The identity of a Buccaneer cornerback has changed dramatically. The prototype now resembles the tall, lanky Aqib Talib (6 feet 1, 205 pounds) more than the short, small and shifty Barber (5-10, 184). Lewis, at 6-2, 205 pounds, falls into the former category.
The days of the Bucs being predictable in their pass coverage are gone. Coach and defensive play-caller Raheem Morris, following the lead of former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin in his final seasons, disguises coverages and mixes others in.
For most of Kiffin's 12-year tenure, the Bucs played almost exclusively the Cover 2 zone.
Drafting cornerbacks who excel in just one style of coverage would prohibit the Bucs from continuing the trend.
"Things are kind of shifting a little bit," said defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake, the Bucs' assistant defensive backs coach in 2006-07 who returned this spring. "We do a lot more on defense now. If we get a guy who can play man to man down the field, be real long and be tough on the wideouts, we can mold him into anything we want. We're going to mold (Lewis).
"I think in the past we've gotten smaller guys who were tough but had that ability to shuffle (their feet). We'd rather get a bigger guy who is tough but can do all the movement as well. It doesn't box us in. We can play multiple coverages now. We want to be diverse and be unpredictable."
Lewis was slowed by an abdominal strain during the final two days of the minicamp, leaving Lake to lament what might have come of matchups between him and the weekend's standout, fourth-round pick and receiver Mike Williams.
But Lewis will recover soon enough, and he'll be thrown into the mix. The Bucs see him having a realistic shot at winning at least the nickel back role, which would make him the No. 3 cornerback. If he beats out Elbert Mack for the job, it would put Lewis on the field for nearly half of the defensive snaps.
With Barber playing in the slot in the nickel package, the Bucs could potentially have two tall, rangy cornerbacks lined up on the outside receivers. That's a vision Morris likes.
"I'm really fired up by the size," he said.
"I remember being the defensive backs coach (in 2007-08). I used to look for the short guy. Now I'm falling in love with these long guys with (quickness) and the elite ball skills and athleticism."
Lewis still must prove he is a player of Talib's caliber, but he figures to have the edge on Talib from a character standpoint.
While Talib recently reached a deal with prosecutors stemming from an arrest last year and has struggled to restrain his emotions, Lewis was a model student at Vanderbilt, a challenging academic institution. He graduated with a degree in human and organizational development in 31/2 years.
"I know a lot of (football players) think when they come to college, they have a meal ticket," Lewis said. "But at Vanderbilt, they don't care. You better get your grades up because they'll kick you out in a minute."
If Lewis is all the Bucs hope he is, he won't go anywhere for a very long time.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]