FRISCO, Texas— It's been a while since Jourdan Lewis has had the pleasure of taking the football field to make meaningful plays, but that will all change very soon. The veteran cornerback was removed from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list on Tuesday*,*
It marks the first time he will be allowed to join practice since suffering a devastating foot injury last October, one he describes as an outright "shattering" of his foot after grabbing an interception (yes, he retained possession despite breaking his foot in the process).
It was described as a Lisfranc injury but, as it turned out, it was worse. All eyes are forward now, however, as Lewis gets ready to contribute as he did prior to the injury.
"I feel really good, the best I have in a while," said Lewis after practice on Tuesday. "I'll see how we practice to see exactly what we're gonna do for the first game."
It's been exactly 311 days from that fateful interception to his first practice rep this week.
"… The tough part is over," Lewis said. "It's honestly just seeing if I can go out there and perform to the best of my ability against somebody else. I can do all of the breaks and cuts, and stuff like that, but it's now about getting back into the fold and playing football against people."
"Britt [Brown] told me two days ago [I'd be activated]. I was so excited."
The biggest hurdle is now behind Lewis, but there are a couple that remain in the way of his return to prime form: the mental aspect and the fact he needs to line up across from receivers again to resharpen his teeth.
"It's really just feeling football again," he said. "Going against other people and understanding my football techniques exactly how I used to do them. I haven't done them for a year now, so going against somebody else is the big challenge — getting the feel back."
Lewis has suffered injury before, but never of this magnitude.
It was so devastating that it dragged his mental health through the mud, to the point where he couldn't bring himself to reply to texts from coaches and players who were hoping to check in on him. But in one of the most admirable acts you'll see from an organization, as defensive coordinator Dan Quinn noted at training camp in Oxnard, the coaching staff and players didn't take the silence from Lewis as lack of commitment to the recovery that lay before him.
Instead, they took it for what it actually was: a heartbroken playmaker forced to the sideline.
And so they leaped into action — literally showing up at Lewis' front door to let him know he's still a huge part of the team, and how badly they wanted him to recover and return to the field.
That was a major turning point in his rehabilitation, and a key reason he finished ahead of schedule.
"It made all the difference, honestly," he admitted. "When I was down, all of the coaches came to see me — [Dan Quinn], coach Al [Harris], coach [Joe] Whitt — those guys came to see me and it just made all the difference. To see they were fighting for me made it easier to go out there and perform."
Thanks to the passionate levels of support from his coaches and teammates, Lewis never gave up on the possibility of climbing back from a shattered foot.
"Nah, there was never a point [where I thought I wouldn't make it back]," Lewis said. "It was just about what my timeline would look like. We definitely did a great job — Britt and the trainers — we did a great job of rehabbing it and being ahead of time."
Once he regained his motivation, he poured himself into his rehab process; and to the point that while he is indeed ahead of schedule, he's not ahead of his schedule.
"I wanted to be ready for training camp," he said. "To get rocking and rolling so I could get some experience against my team. Going into the game week, it's about trying to get in the fold of things [now and] next week."
Lewis rejoins a secondary in Dallas that is flat-out one of the most talented and deepest the Cowboys have seen in a generation. Trevon Diggs, a First-Team All-Pro who is already in Dallas' record books, will be complemented by Stephon Gilmore, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, along with breakout sensation DaRon Bland.
That creates a rotation of four impact cornerbacks that is arguably the best in the entire league, and the team has high hopes for rookie sixth-round pick Eric Scott and newly-acquired cornerback Noah Igbinoghene as well (acquired in exchange for Kelvin Joseph).
And then there is the safety group, led by Malik Hooker, Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson.
Oh, by the way, the Cowboys also boast a top-3 pass rush unit and added Mazi Smith in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft to join Johnathan Hankins in upgrading the run defense.
All told, Lewis nearly needed a bib when he was asked about the potential of the defense; particularly now having him back in the rotation.
"Hopefully we can be historic," he said. "That's what we've been aiming for and I wanna be a part of that. … This is the most talent I've seen. A lot of people say they have talent in the NFL, but this is a very talented group.
"We all push each other and I know that we can all make the plays, and our defense is set up for us to make plays. … Just playing off of each other, I feel like we can be extremely special."
Does that also involve Lewis getting his Madden rating back up?
"Yes!" he said, wearing a massive smile that nearly required sunglasses to glare into. "We gotta get [that] up! It's time!!"
Indeed it is.