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Saints program cover story: Keenan Lewis

'West Bank' has become team's shutdown corner

Photos of Keenan Lewis at 2014 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon. (New Orleans Saints photos)

There aren't a ton of frills associated with Keenan Lewis.

There's no "island" on which he isolates and conquers, he doesn't feud with others at his position via Twitter and the next time he makes the Pro Bowl will be his first.

But if you're looking for an invaluable member of the New Orleans Saints defense, then Lewis fits the description as much or more than anyone. And if you're looking for a cornerback who can be trusted with the responsibility of taking an opposing receiver and smothering his production, watch the New Orleans native work.

Take the Carolina Panthers game as a microcosm.

Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin entered the game as one of the highly touted rookies this season, owner of 38 receptions for 571 yards and five touchdowns entering a nationally televised, Thursday night game at Bank of America Stadium.

With Lewis as the primary defender, Benjamin was targeted 10 times by quarterback Cam Newton. He caught two passes for 18 yards in the Saints' 28-10 victory.

"If you guys haven't seen it yet, he's been doing this for the past two years," Saints defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "I say he's one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the league.

"He was shutting down guys last year, he's been shutting down guys this entire year and (Thursday) it was just in the right light (on national television), and everybody got to really see what this guy is made of."

Four nights before, in another nationally televised game against Green Bay at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it was Packers receiver Jordy Nelson who was blanketed by Lewis.

This season, Nelson has 50 receptions for 737 yards and six touchdowns; against the Saints, he finished with three catches for 25 yards. New Orleans won 44-23.

"Keenan is, I feel, one of the true shutdown corners in the game," linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "There are a lot of corners that say they do this, they do that, but you look on the film and we have Keenan playing against their best offensive receiver.

"Week in and week out he holds his own and it allows us to be able to rotate coverages to other guys and do certain things with him. Having a guy like him on this defense makes us who we are."

Who Lewis is, is a long and wiry defender (6 feet 1, 208 pounds) who doesn't shy away from the responsibility that is placed upon him each week.

It's a duty he always envisioned performing in the Superdome. He grew up on the West Bank of New Orleans, maybe five miles away from the facility, dreaming of playing there when he was a kid and making the dream reality in 2013, when he signed a five-year contract with the Saints as an unrestricted free agent from Pittsburgh, where he played his first four seasons.

"I always wanted to play for the hometown team," Lewis said. "I'm just fortunate and blessed that God gave me the opportunity. When (Saints coach) Sean (Payton) called me, I knew I didn't want to go anywhere else.

"Just doing what I'm doing now, having the opportunity to come back and play for my hometown team and hopefully, it gives the younger generation hope. If they see me do it, a person who is active in the community, then they can do it. That was my main goal and hopefully, it's touching other people."

Certainly, his touch with the Saints has been golden.

Last season, when his coaches and teammates thought he played at a Pro Bowl level, Lewis blanketed receivers and finished with a career-high four interceptions, nine passes defensed and 40 tackles.

This year, he has an interception and 24 tackles and similarly has clung to receivers.

"He's playing excellent," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "I think Keenan's playing fantastic.

"We've got some guys that are having incredible years but, obviously, we're not having the success on defense that we should as a team. That's holding us back as a team. But individually, Keenan Lewis is one of the best corners in football, and he proves it every week."

"Coach Rob is like a father to me," Lewis said. "We talk off the field. He'll call me some Mondays and we'll chat, (he'll say), 'West Bank, you've got to guard this guy. We need it.' I accept the challenge every time he presents it."

"West Bank" is a nickname Lewis clings to, with pride. It's his roots, where his family resides. And he has no problem gushing over his home.

"I always tell my teammates about the West Bank," he said. "I'm proud to be from the West Bank.

"I tell them about O. Perry Walker High School, which is Landry-Walker now. I tell them how good we are. We'll beat any of my teammates' high schools wherever, whenever."

Wherever, whenever – the same challenge Lewis accepts from his coaches and teammates every game day, given the task of covering the elite receivers in the league.

"I'm very satisfied (with my play for the Saints)," he said. "Just to have the respect from my teammates and my coaches, that means a lot to me. It doesn't matter what the league thinks about me, as long as my teammates and coaches know they can count on me and they trust me to be out there."

 
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