Keenan Lewis driven to keep improving

METAIRIE, La. -- Keenan Lewis firmly established himself as one of the NFL's top young cornerbacks last year, helping the New Orleans Saints rank as the league's No. 2 pass defense in the regular season, then silencing dynamic Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson in the playoffs.

But Lewis is hardly resting on his laurels, because he knows the competition isn't going to get any easier anytime soon.

Lewis said he started focusing on improving his leg strength and his burst from the day after New Orleans' season-ending playoff loss at Seattle last year.

"It's just something I think I lacked last year, especially when you're going against the guys I'll be facing this year, the Megatrons (Calvin Johnson), A.J. Green, Anquan [Boldin] again, Dez [Bryant] again, those bigger guys," Lewis said. "You're gonna need that power and that leg drive. That's something I've been working on a lot.

"Driving to the ball, putting a real 'pop' -- what I call it -- on those running backs, coming from the hips and exploding. So that was my biggest key, the day after the Seattle game, to come in and get my legs ready."

The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Lewis also said he has another incentive to try and improve that leg strength.

"You see my legs, they're very small," Lewis said. "So they talk about 'em a lot."

Although Lewis may get his share of friendly ribbing from his fellow defensive backs -- one of the most rambunctious position groups in the Saints' locker room -- it's clear that he has also earned the utmost respect of young teammates and new veteran teammates like Champ Bailey and Jairus Byrd alike.

Lewis' "breakout" season came two years ago with the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he ranked second in the NFL with 23 pass break-ups. But he was a No. 2 corner there alongside veteran Ike Taylor.

When he came to his hometown of New Orleans as a free agent last year, Lewis quickly emerged as a bona fide No. 1 corner, thriving while being matched up against the opponents' No. 1 receivers on a weekly basis.

Suddenly, Lewis stands as a veteran leader of the Saints' secondary after New Orleans parted ways with longtime starters Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins in the offseason. And it's a role he's embracing. ... Well, mostly.

"Yeah, you know, obviously I had to grow up," Lewis said. "I didn't want to grow up. I really still want to be a kid again. But when you've got guys like [rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste] and those guys coming in, rookies very talented, you better grow up real fast or they're gonna make it a battle. And also I can teach them the game, [what I learned] from guys like Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, what they passed down to me.

"Just to have that opportunity to pass down to another good player has been a blessing."

Lewis said he's still shaking off some rust during these early organized team activity practices and minicamp sessions. But that hasn't been evident on the field. He's stood out on a handful of occasions while aggressively contesting passes during full-team and 7-on-7 drills.

And last week, Lewis showed off that "pop" he was talking about while coming from behind receiver Robert Meachem to reject a pass attempt during a spirited two-minute drill against the offense.