MOBILE —Terrell Lewis flashed his big, toothy smile as soon as the question came up.
Lewis repeatedly described his decision to sit out Alabama’s Citrus Bowl game in favor of getting an early start on NFL Draft preparations a “family/business decision,” and one made only after seeking council from both Crimson Tide teammates and family.
“Just me and my family kind of all met up and basically made a business decision to prepare myself for the next stage,” Lewis said Tuesday during Senior Bowl Media Day inside the Mobile Convention Center.
“We didn’t kind of want to risk anything as far as the last game, and then as far as coming to this event, (I) also wanted to prepare myself and get a head start (for) the NFL Draft process and get my body ready to play against grown men and stuff like that.”
Prior to this past season, when he finished second on the team with six sacks and 11 ½ tackles for loss, Lewis’ career path had been admittedly derailed by a slew of injuries, which forced him to miss 25 combined games over the past two seasons.
That included suffering an elbow injury in the 2017 season-opener that cost him 10 games that year, as well as the ACL injury he suffered in the summer prior to the 2018 campaign, forcing him to miss the entire season that year.
And playing in a bowl game that wouldn’t be for any sort of championship — Alabama’s first such postseason game since 2015 — was simply too much of a risk, especially given his own injury history.
“It played a role in the thought process,” Lewis said. “And on top of that, knowing that an event like this is a big event and you can definitely improve your draft stock and get a feel for the teams, talk with the teams, be in this event, participate in front of these guys and they get to coach you up close and stuff like that. So I definitely wanted to take advantage of that opportunity and be at (my) best at the time of the event.”
Lewis is among three Alabama players participating in Senior Bowl activities this week in Mobile, along with senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings and senior safety Jared Mayden, and the trio are teammates on the South team along with former Alabama-turned-Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Count second-year Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy as among those that have already been impressed by Lewis, who graduated with his degree in December thus qualifying him to come to Mobile despite not technically being a senior.
One thing playing in Lewis’ favor is his freaky measurables, including tipping the scales at 6-foot-5 3/8th inches and 258 pounds, an impressive stature for the physically gifted edge rusher that also has 34 1/8th-inch arms and a wingspan of 83 ½ inches
“That dude is unique,” Nagy raved Monday evening. “Terrell Lewis is almost impossible to give a player comp for, because he’s got that long stringy body but then he’s got Mike Tyson hands. Those long guys can’t generate power well, but this dude is so explosive. … Talent-wise, shoot, he’s a Top-15 pick.”
It’s because of the evaluation side of the pre-draft process that injuries this time of year can be particularly costly for players attempting to make the move to the NFL, something one of Lewis’ now-former Alabama teammates is experiencing this week.
Tide senior defensive end Raekwon Davis was a late scratch from Senior Bowl festivities after pulling out of with an ankle injury on Monday, Nagy told reporters Tuesday morning.
Along the potential for injury, Lewis cited the potential “quick turnaround” involved with playing in a New Year’s Day bowl and then preparing for both the Senior Bowl less than two weeks later and the NFL Combine a month after that.
“I just wanted to get a head start and get my body ready,” Lewis said.
Of course, prior to making that decision, Lewis made sure to discuss his options with several teammates.
“I definitely talked to a lot of my guys and just got a feel for (what they thought of his decision), because I didn’t want to have that feeling inside that I left them high and dry,” Lewis said.
“Everybody that I kind of came across and talked to, especially the older guys, they understood where I was coming from, that my decision was a business decision and just kind of made me feel OK with whatever I decided to do.
"At the end of the day, they knew I wanted to be there with them. I wanted to go to the game, I was even down in Orlando with them, so they knew I was still with them in support, still with them in spirit.”
Jennings and Mayden were among those veteran teammates Lewis spoke to and each gave him their blessing.
“He told me about (his decision) and I told him, ‘You’ve got to do what’s best for you,’” Mayden said Tuesday. “If that’s what you feel like is the best thing you need to do for yourself, at the end of the day it became a business (decision) for him. … You’ve got to do what’s best for you and your family at the end of the day.”
Lewis said he also sought advice from Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who expressed his desire for Lewis to play in the Citrus Bowl but was understanding of his decision.
“He was supportive,” he said of Saban. “Obviously he wanted me to play, but at the same time he understood that I was making a business decision.”
Crimson Tide senior cornerback Trevon Diggs, the younger brother of Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, also opted to sit out the Citrus Bowl.