TUSCALOOSA — You’ll have to excuse Terrell Lewis for being a little voracious, he’s got a lot of making up to do after missing 25 games with injuries over the last two seasons.
It’s probably one reason why, after failing to haul in his first interception during his first career multi-sack game in Saturday’s 47-28 win at Texas A&M, the Alabama outside linebacker cradled his “baby” — a Nike football lifted from the program’s sports information office — while he fielded questions from reporters Monday.
“I was supposed to catch a pick this past Saturday, so I’m trying to get a feel for the game again,” Lewis joked.
It wasn’t the first time Lewis has carried around a football during interviews this season, but it playfully underscored the rapid development that is quickly establishing the 6-foot-5, 252-pound junior as one of the SEC’s premier pass rushers.
Lewis was named one of the team’s defensive players of the week as selected by the Alabama coaching staff after racking up a career-high two sacks and two quarterback hurries Saturday against Texas A&M.
It was more of what many around the complex have expected from Lewis since 2017, when the then-sophomore was thought to be the next great Crimson Tide pass rusher before suffering an elbow injury in the season-opener that cost him 10 games that season.
“It means a lot,” senior defensive end Raekwon Davis said Tuesday. “(Lewis is) back healthy. He’s back playing fast. He’s producing real nice. He’s good. He’s back healthy. That’s what we need.”
Lewis, though, knows he has much more room to grow — much like the rest of Alabama’s still-developing defense.
“I still feel like there’s a lot more to go,” Lewis said, even pointing to a missed tackle on the Aggies’ first 15-play series that resulted in an early 7-0 advantage on the Tide. “That kinda had me aggravated a little bit. (But) me and Anfernee (Jennings) talked, (and we know) you just can’t get those plays back. But (we realize) it’s more so we have to make those types of plays. (So that’s why) I still feel like there’s a lot more room to grow.”
As Alabama’s two starting outside linebackers, Lewis and the redshirt senior Jennings are tied for second in the SEC with four sacks apiece and provide the basis for an Alabama pass rush that’s been ranked in the Top 2 in the SEC since 2015, averaging 47.75 sacks and 108.5 tackles for loss per season over the past four years.
This year, though, the unit has been slow developing, ranking fifth and ninth in the conference with 15 sacks and 37 tackles for loss halfway through the regular season. After managing just two tackles for loss in the opener against Duke, the Tide has had seven TFL in each of the last five games and is averaging three sacks per game in SEC play after a five-sack showing Saturday at Texas A&M.
Not that anybody in Tuscaloosa is satisfied, especially after another inconsistent day defensively.
“We still got a lot of work to do, but … I think we’re getting there,” junior safety Xavier McKinney said Monday. “Of course, we had some adversity before the season started and even now, with injuries and stuff, but I think we’re doing well. I think we’re adjusting to (everything) and I think we’re getting better.”
Added Davis: “I still feel like we have room to improve. We still have to get better. We still have to get better as a whole unit.”
Alabama’s defense should have every chance to improve Saturday against a reeling Tennessee offense that ranks dead-last in the league in scoring (averaging 12.3 points per game in SEC play) and is unsettled at quarterback with junior Jarrett Guarantano and freshman Brian Mauer sharing reps the last several games.