RB Jacque Lewis averaged 7.5 yards per carry last year at North Carolina
The rookie and first-year mini-camp held by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after April's draft continues to pay dividends. On Tuesday, the Buccaneers signed North Carolina running back Jacque Lewis, one of 20 players who participated in that camp on a tryout contract.
Lewis is actually the sixth of those tryout players to find a spot on the Bucs' 80-man offseason roster, making that camp unusually productive for the team. A year ago, 27 players were brought in for a similar extended tryout during the rookie camp and only one was subsequently signed to the roster in 2004.
Immediately after the camp, which ran from April 29 to May 1, the Bucs signed tackle Kevin Fischer, running back Derek Watson and cornerbacks Carlos Campbell and James Patrick. Three days later, they picked up quarterback Jared Allen, one of the standouts of that short camp. Lewis brings the signings to a half a dozen.
He also gives the Bucs a 12th running back (including three fullbacks) and their 101st player overall. Though the offseason NFL limit is 80 players, Tampa Bay could actually go as high as 102 at the moment. The 12 players selected in April's draft don't count against the limit until they sign contracts (and they also cannot report to training camp until they do so) and the 10 players participating in the NFL Europe's spring season have earned the Bucs 10 roster exemptions.
Lewis fits the mold of a change-of-pace, third-down back – smaller and quick – but he is strong for his size. The 5-10, 192-pound back holds Tar Heel running back records in two weight-lifting categories as well as the long jump.
He did prove to be a big-play back for the Heels, though, averaging 5.4 yards per carry during his four-year collegiate career, including 6.1 as a junior and a career-high 7.5 as a senior. In 2003, he was responsible for three of North Carolina's six longest plays from scrimmage. Last year, while sharing time in the backfield with Chad Scott, Lewis ran 74 times for 569 yards and three touchdowns.
Lewis' four-year totals at UNC include 321 carries for 1,746 yards and seven touchdowns, plus 61 receptions for 545 yards and five scores. He was used most extensively as a receiver in his 2003 junior year, catching 34 passes for 391 yards and a team-high five receiving touchdowns. He was the Tar Heels' second-leading receiver and third-leading rusher that season.
As a sophomore in 2002, Lewis started nine games and led the team in rushing with 574 yards on 130 carries, scoring two touchdowns. He also played extensively on special teams that year, contributing nine kick-coverage tackles. In 2001, he was one of only seven true freshman to play for the Tar Heels, pitching in with 241 yards and a touchdown on 56 carries.
Lewis is one of seven young players in the Bucs' tailback stable along with 12th-year veteran Charlie Garner and eighth-year man Michael Pittman. The Bucs' first-round draft pick was Auburn back Carnell Williams, and the team has added two other rookie runners in undrafted free agents Lewis and Fred Reid of Mississippi State. Columbia's Johnathan Reese and South Carolina State's Derek Watson are first-year players while returning Bucs Ian Smart and Earnest Graham each have one NFL regular season under their belts.
Lewis signed in time to participate in the first of three organized team activity days to be held this week. He and the team's other 25 rookies can only report to Tampa if their respective colleges have finished their 2004-05 school years.
The 23-year-old Lewis hails from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.