Injured Alabama LB Lewis surprises teammates with return to practice field

Alex Byington
Montgomery Advertiser
Alabama linebacker Terrell Lewis (24) celebrates after a defensive stop against Georgia  during the NCAA National Championship football game between Alabama and Georgia on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Atlanta, Ga.

TUSCALOOSA – Even Quinnen Williams was surprised to see that familiar Crimson No. 24 jersey going through the motions during Monday’s practice.

Injured Alabama junior linebacker Terrell Lewis made his return to the practice field Monday afternoon less than five months after undergoing ACL surgery on his right knee July 10.

“It was shock for me because I ain’t know,” Williams said Tuesday. “But just seeing how hard he worked all season, seeing how much passion he played with, not played with but how much passion he had on the sideline. It’s just great to see him back on his feet in general.”

Lewis was in full pads and working through individual position drills during the open media viewing period Tuesday, sporting a heavy brace around his surgically repaired right knee.

This is the second straight year Lewis suffered a significant injury and somehow managed to work his way back to the field in the same season.

“It was good to have him back,” sophomore safety Xavier McKinney said of Lewis. “He’s a big dude, so you definitely could see a difference out there when he’s on the field. So, it was good to have him back.”

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Last year, Lewis underwent surgery to repair ligaments in his right elbow suffered during the 2017 season opener against Florida State and missed 10 games before returning to play in the Alabama’s final three games against Auburn, Clemson and Georgia.

On Sunday, Lewis tweeted out a picture of him celebrating a sack of Georgia’s Jake Fromm in last season’s national title game with the caption: “Debating if I should pick up where I left off …”

“If he plays this week, if he plays this year or not, just to see a player like that, a physical player, a dynamic player like that, back on his feet after an ACL surgery, it was just amazing to see him out there,” said Williams, Alabama’s star sophomore nose tackle.

Meanwhile, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has yet to address Lewis’ return, but as recently as two weeks ago acknowledged he hadn’t spoken to either Lewis or the team medical staff about the possibility of him playing again this season.

“I never talked to Terrell about what his interests would be, I haven’t even talked to the doc about when he would clear him medically,” Saban said Nov. 14. “Until a guy gets cleared medically and can start practicing and all that, and everybody’s good with it, we don’t even think about it.”

Of course, as evidenced Monday and Tuesday, Lewis is at least cleared to return to the practice field, where he wasn’t wearing a non-contact black jersey that many injured players sport while still working their way back to full health.

Sean Washington, Lewis’ mentor and head trainer at Monster Maker Educational and Athletic Center in Marlow Heights, Maryland, told the Montgomery Advertiser his pupil is not yet fully recovered.

“I don’t think he’s totally 100 percent, he’s close to 100 percent, I’d probably say 75-80 percent (recovered),” said Washington, who visited Lewis in Tuscaloosa several times during his rehab and even shot video of some of his progress over the last few months. “He’s making a remarkable comeback, he’s come back a head of time of what they (originally) scheduled.”

But while Lewis’ presence at practice is certainly encouraging, it hardly suggests he’s anywhere close to being ready or cleared to return to the field of play. In fact, Washington suggested his work this week is simply the next stage in his ongoing rehabilitation process.

“One of the (reasons) they have him out there now is to get him doing the football movements that are required to play his position,” Washington said. “Because all the other stuff was just strengthening and straight-line running, and they want him to get used to flipping his hips and changing direction, stuff that he has to do for his position. They moreso just want to get him acclimated to that, than, I think, getting him back on the field (immediately).”

Alabama linebacker Terrell Lewis (24) stops Mississippi State wide receiver Reggie Todd (20) on a kick return in first half action in Starkville, Ms. on Saturday November 11, 2017. (Mickey Welsh / Montgomery Advertiser)

Of course, if Lewis is able to clear any final hurdles in his recovery, a return to the field is a definite possibility over the next month, especially with the NCAA’s new rule that allows him to play in Alabama’s final two or three games and still qualify for a redshirt this season because he won’t participate in more than four games this season.

Washington said the ability to redshirt and thus maintain his final two years of eligibility was important to Lewis, and was addressed early in his rehab between himself, Alabama’s coaches and trainers.

“That was already talked about early on (in Lewis’ rehab),” Washington said. “His mindset was, ‘Hey, if I can make it back with four more games or whatever left, I’m still good to redshirt, right?’ And (their answer was) ‘Of course you are.’ … He was fully aware of that.”

With that in mind, Lewis appears to at least be considering a return this week, as No. 1 Alabama readies to play No. 5 Georgia in Saturday’s SEC Championship game in Atlanta.

And, if he’s able to step back onto that Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf Saturday, those closest to him know Lewis will bring his all every snap he’s on the field.

“He’s an animal, there’s no doubt about that,” Washington said. “He athletic, I think he’ll most definitely give them a lift as far as the mental aspect of having him back. He’s one of the leaders on the team, so that most definitely will give the team a lift. And physically, he’s a freak. So I know, if he was to play, he’d most definitely impact the game for sure.”