INDIANAPOLIS – Tyquan Lewis is starting over.
Faced with a make-or-break year and watching from afar as the Indianapolis Colts repeatedly reinforced his position this offseason, the 25-year-old re-examined every decision he was making on and off the field.
It was time to rediscover the player who became a star on a powerhouse Ohio State defense and made himself a second-round draft pick in 2018.
“Sometimes people forget their foundation in life,” Lewis said on a Zoom call this week. “Sometimes you have to go back and you just gotta think (about) all the things that helped you get to this moment. You’ve just gotta go back and just re-do it.
“You’ve got to lay that foundation and be like, ‘This is how I am. This is what I thrive off of. This is who made me.’ And that’s just basically what I did.”
No detail was small enough to evade Lewis’ examination.
Of course, he changed his diet and focused on ways to strengthen his body. But he also spent a lot of time honing his mind.
Lewis’ first two seasons in the NFL were filled with injuries and frustration.
After a foot injury sidelined him for half of his rookie season, he showed brief glimpses of his potential. In six starts, he finished with a pair of sacks, eight quarterback hits and three tackles for loss.
It was far from a resume-defining performance, but there was enough meat on the bone to suggest a potential breakthrough in 2019.
Instead, things went the other way. Again hampered by injuries throughout the offseason and training camp, Lewis never found a comfort zone.
Despite having the versatility to play at end or tackle, he appeared in just nine games and occasionally was on the inactive list even when he was healthy. Playing just 22% of the defensive snaps, he recorded five tackles, no sacks and just a single quarterback hit.
Suddenly, his NFL career was at a crossroads.
After the season, Lewis turned his focus inward and got to work reshaping the way he viewed his life.
“I would write quotes down for myself,” he said. “I would write down my thoughts – just thinking of the ways I could improve myself as a person as well as a football player. I mean, that was the biggest thing – just working on myself as a human, becoming better as a human player.”
Training camp is full of mirages. Throughout the league, there are players who make a splash each summer but are long forgotten by the fall.
Even against that backdrop, Lewis has been impressive in the very early stages for Indianapolis.
On Wednesday, he threw a hand just under all-pro left guard Quenton Nelson’s chin, stunning the offensive lineman and putting him on his heels in a 1-on-1 drill. Lewis then slid by for a simulated sack against a non-existent quarterback.
On Tuesday, Lewis led a charge into the backfield to stuff a run in 11-on-11 drills with linebacker Darius Leonard following hot on his heels.
The sight of No. 94 making a play – in any environment – has been one of the most common scenes in the first three practices open to media.
“Physically, he looks better than he’s ever looked since he’s been here,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “So (we’re) very excited about that. It’s a very short window here, and so we all know this is a long haul and he needs to continue to do what he’s been doing these three days.
“If he does, that’s going to be good for him, and it’s going to be good for us because he has looked exceptionally good.”
Lewis isn’t taking a victory lap.
Physically, this is the best he’s felt in the NFL, and it’s been plainly evident on the field.
The fast start has validated the process he undertook in the offseason and proven he’s on the right track. But there’s still a long road ahead.
In March, Indianapolis traded the No. 13 overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers for all-pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Days later, the Colts signed former Notre Dame star and Indianapolis native Sheldon Day to reteam with his former 49ers cohort.
In April, the team used a sixth-round pick on Penn State defensive tackle Robert Windsor.
Add in a breakout performance from Grover Stewart in 2019, the versatility of Denico Autry and a crowded group at defensive end, and it’s easy to see this won’t be an easy roster to make as a defensive lineman.
That’s fine with Lewis.
If there’s one thing his football journey has equipped him to handle, it’s adversity.
“At Ohio State, you start at the bottom of the totem pole as a freshman and then you work your way up,” Lewis said. “Everything was a grind there, and I embrace the grind. I don’t shy away from competition.
“I want to seize every opportunity that presents itself.”