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A year on injured reserve helped Travis Lewis feel fresher this season

Linebacker Travis Lewis has led the Lions with 19 tackles over the first three preseason games this year. Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Travis Lewis didn't realize it while he was hurt last season, placed on injured reserve with a quad injury that had him rehabbing instead of playing for most of the 2014 season.

He didn't realize it while he watched games. Didn't even realize it immediately after the season, either. It took a while for it to register -- that the quad injury Lewis suffered might have actually been somewhat of a benefit for the Detroit Lions linebacker.

"You take a year off your body hitting people and it actually helps a lot," Lewis said. "My physical rehab group that I have back in Texas, they weren't just rehabbing my quad, they were rehabbing my body so it's helped a lot."

Lewis said he feels healthier now at this point in the preseason than he has in his prior three years with the Lions. He has led the Lions with 19 tackles over the first three preseason games and received an extended look in the third preseason game against Jacksonville last Friday.

He spent the entire time with the first unit in place of Tahir Whitehead, who played with the second group. For Lewis, it was a chance to show what he could do beyond special teams, where he has been a core player for Detroit since being picked in the seventh round of the 2012 draft.

"I've made more plays this year and I stayed healthy," Lewis said. "A lot of it has to do with opportunity, taking advantage of your opportunities, so it's a little bit of everything."

Lewis said his year watching games away from the team made him appreciate his role with the franchise even more than he did before, especially when he knew he couldn't play as he rehabbed from injury.

His play so far in the preseason has put him once again in contention for a roster spot -- a similar position to what he's been in throughout his career. Lewis has been a roster bubble candidate for most of his career, largely due to his special teams work.

And he's once again on the roster bubble this week as he heads into the preseason finale Thursday and Saturday's cut-down to 53 players. He's likely in a battle with Julian Stanford and Brandon Copeland for the Lions' final linebacker spot -- a place where special teams will be invaluable.

But Lewis doesn't worry about it. He's been here before and made the team the past three seasons.

"Nothing changes. Doesn't matter," Lewis said. "I've adapted to it. I'm better fit for it and it keeps a chip on my shoulder. I embrace the role."