Trash-talking Nik Lewis playing alongside former rivals at Als camp
Nik Lewis goes after a pass during Montreal Alouettes training in Vero Beach, Fla. on April, 15, 2015. (Keith Carson/Postmedia Network)
When Nik Lewis reported for the first day of Alouettes mini-camp on Wednesday afternoon at Historic Dodgertown, he got any awkwardness out of the way immediately.
After all, the slotback played 11 seasons with the Calgary Stampeders and spent the entire time talking trash to opposing defences. So when he saw Alouettes defenders Jerald Brown and Chip Cox on Wednesday, he wasn’t sure how to proceed.
“I was like, I’ve been talking (trash) to you all for a long time,” Lewis said with a laugh. “Should I have brought a letter to apologize or something? You get so used to just playing against guys. You get one new teammate from another team every year or something like that, but to get a whole new group?”
Lewis, wearing No. 8 instead of his familiar No. 82, took more of a business approach to his first day on the field as a member of the Alouettes, who in February signed him to a one-year contract worth more than $100,000.
There wasn’t the usual chatter coming from the 5-foot-10, 240-pound beast, and he caught most everything that was thrown his way. He often ran past defensive backs, even though that’s not his game any more.
The Texan is in much better football shape this year than he was last year, when he was coming off an ankle injury that he spent the off-season trying to get back to 100%. He couldn’t train two days in a row last winter.
“My ankle would stiffen up, and it wouldn’t unlock,” he said. “Training camp last year was horrible, and then just through the season it was a constant grind, taking pills just to practise and getting shot up to play. It was just a miserable life.
“Now I just feel good. I don’t know what the coaches or (GM Jim) Popp was expecting. Maybe ‘Let’s bring Nik in and see if he has anything.’ I got a couple days to prove I’ve got a lot left. Not just anything, but I’ve got a lot.”
Lewis, who is 11th in CFL career receiving with more than 11,000 yards, has history with Alouettes head coach Tom Higgins. He liked what he saw from Lewis during the 90-minute session in the hot and muggy conditions.
“He has had a really good off-season. (He’s) thick,” Higgins said.
“I have a personal relationship having been with Nik before, and I can tell you he’s very confident as a receiver,” he added. “There’s some things we’re thinking that we might be able to do with Nik that might play to his advantage.
“Now, he’s still competing against a very talented group of receivers, so we’ll have to see how it plays out. But so far he’s smiling and we’re smiling.”
Lewis, who won a pair of Grey Cups in Cowtown, toyed with the idea of coaching this off-season when it became clear he wasn’t going back to Calgary, even getting an interview for the Saskatchewan Roughriders receivers coach position, so he almost sounded Wednesday night like someone who is starting his career all over again.
“I’ve opened my mind to just let it go and enjoy myself, just enjoy being out here and being with the guys. It’s awesome,” he said. “I’ve played against Fred (Stamps) and S.J. (Green) for so long, and to come out and see these guys work and to see what they’re doing and just try to evolve even more.
“I talked to (receivers coach) Anthony (Calvillo) and told him I’m ready to learn. Just open yourself up to learn. Gain knowledge and just get better as a player. I got new comrades, and I’m ready. I felt pretty good for the first day.”
All but one member of the Alouettes who was invited showed up for the team’s three day mini-camp, which started Wednesday night at Historic Dodgertown.
That no-show was none other than former NFL receiver Chad Johnson, who made his Alouettes debut at this mini-camp last April but had a disappointing 2014 CFL campaign.
“He was extended an invitation,” head coach Tom Higgins said after the initial workout. “All we know is that he didn’t show up.”
Asked what that will do to his chances of being at the team’s main camp in June, Higgins wouldn’t say. He did indicate Johnson isn’t helping his chances of making the Alouettes for a second season, if that’s in fact what he wants.
“Right now I’ve got too many other things to worry about,” Higgins said. “We have a team that’s here. That’s what you focus on. We have a stable of receivers. They’re competing.
“He puts himself at a disadvantage by not being here, because there’s some new idiosyncrasies of the offence. Although there might be some similarities, there’s a lot of new nomenclature. And when you have a new offensive co-ordinator (Turk Schonert), things are going to be done a little bit differently. So it puts you a little bit behind.”
CFL mini-camps are voluntary, so it’s not like Johnson can be punished for sitting it out. There are 65 players taking part in the mini-camp, including the team’s four quarterbacks: Jonathan Crompton, Tanner Marsh, Dan LeFevour and John Skelton.