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Pitt's Lewis has cornerback pedigree

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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt's Ryan Lewis practices Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, on the South Side.
Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, 10:09 p.m.

Pitt cornerback Ryan Lewis is proud of his uncle Tim. The two talk football whenever they can.

“I like to pick his brain every now and then,” Ryan said of his uncle, a former Pitt cornerback and Steelers defensive coordinator from 2000-03. “He's really smart.”

But he hasn't seen Tim Lewis on HBO's “Hard Knocks,” which features the Atlanta Falcons this year. Tim is the Falcons' secondary coach.

“Not yet,” said Ryan, who clearly has better things to do. “I haven't had a chance to watch TV.” Which is probably for the best. Lewis is busy trying to help ease Pitt's personnel shortage at cornerback after moving from safety.

“We were a little low (on cornerbacks),” said Ryan, whose father Will played cornerback in the NFL and is now the Kansas City Chiefs' director of pro scouting. “I said, ‘As long as I can get on the field, I'll help the team any way I can.' ”

Cornerback is one of the most important positions on the team — especially in the ACC, where offensive coordinators like to spread pass catchers all over the field.

After K'Waun Williams exhausted his eligibility last season, Pitt had only one cornerback above the sophomore class: junior Lafayette Pitts, who missed Monday's practice with a minor injury. Plus, Titus Howard, who might have been a starter, was suspended for the season for violating a team rule.

Into the void stepped Lewis, a sophomore backing up starter Trenton Coles, and freshman Avonte Maddox, who became first team when Pitts went to the sideline.

Maddox (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) already has been identified by secondary coach Troy Douglas as the team's best man-to-man cornerback. He regularly shadows wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who is 5 inches taller, and Monday he kept up with him stride for stride while breaking up a pass.

“I like covering him because it makes me better as a player,” said Maddox, who added he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash last year at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit.

“I want to go up against him every time, if I could. I'm never going to back down. I'm not going to show any fear at all.”

Meanwhile, Lewis said his comfort level is rising after seeing the defense from two positions in the secondary since arriving from Seattle in 2012.

“Playing both positions opened my eyes to the whole defense,” he said. “Now that I know the whole thing, it's just common sense.”

Lewis' size (6-foot, 195) serves him well in practice against Pitt's wide receivers, most of whom are taller than him.

“I'm not afraid to get physical,” he said. “Being physical is one of the most important parts of being a cornerback. Most guys don't realize that.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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