TAMPA — The Bucs drafted cornerback Myron Lewis believing he could be the future of the position.
Now, as Lewis nears the end of his second season, it's reasonable to ask whether the 2010 third-round pick from Vanderbilt has a future in Tampa Bay.
Lewis, 24, has not been a key contributor while the likes of 2011 seventh-round choice Anthony Gaitor have played extensively in the absence of starter Aqib Talib (hamstring). And reading between the lines, coaches believe Lewis hasn't done much to warrant many more opportunities.
His latest comes Saturday at Carolina now that Talib has been placed on injured reserve.
"It's up to him what he does with it," defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. "If you don't get it done, you're going to be somewhere else. If you get it done, you're going to be here. Same thing with everybody else."
Why hasn't Lewis shown the play expected of a third-round choice.? The reasons are varied.
At times, small, nagging injuries have been his downfall. He made his first impression on Tampa Bay's coaches during the 2010 rookie minicamp by spending the three-day event on the sideline with an abdominal strain. He went on to become a key part of the rotation after Talib's 2010 season-ending hip injury, serving as the third cornerback for the final four games.
At that point he showed some signs the Bucs had been looking for. He held his own against elite players such as Calvin Johnson of the Lions. Going into the offseason, there was much optimism.
The team considered him to be in a battle with E.J. Biggers for the role of third cornerback entering training camp. But Lewis missed most of camp and the preseason with a hamstring strain. When he returned in the preseason finale, he was injured again. That time, an ankle sprain slowed him and he remained inactive for the first two regular-season games.
Lewis has gained a reputation for being injury prone. Those injuries have effectively negated what little gains he has made.
"Last year he … made some nice plays on balls, showed that he had really progressed," coach Raheem Morris said. "He became a smarter football player. This year he came back into camp and looked sharp, looked good but then started to battle some injuries again."
Those injuries have created chances for others — Elbert Mack and Gaitor, for example —and Lewis has been the obvious loser.
"In training camp, some other players caught up with him and some other players were playing better and kind of jumped in front of him," Lake said. "That's how it works."
After being inactive for six of the 14 games — even last week's against the Cowboys' potent passing game — Lewis should be on the field Saturday.
And he knows full well what's at stake.
"Basically, it's an interview all over again," Lewis said. "Hopefully they give me the opportunity to play. It's been frustrating not being active. But hopefully I get the opportunity and I can take advantage of it.
"It's kind of difficult to show consistency when you're not playing a lot, but I guess they just want me to go out there and be that player that they saw when they drafted me."
It's critical that the Bucs go into the offseason knowing what they have in Lewis. Cornerback is a position that almost certainly needs to be addressed given Talib's shaky status (he faces a felony charge for a shooting in Texas) and 36-year-old iron man Ronde Barber's potential retirement. It's possible Tampa Bay could lose its two starting cornerbacks.
Will Lewis be a part of the solution? That's up to him.
"I love football," said Lewis, who grew up in Pompano Beach. "It's a game I grew up playing. I've played cornerback all my life, from little league to high school to college, all the way to the NFL. I'm just going to do the best I can do. I really need to finish these two games strong."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]