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9 Jamal Lewis If his surgically repaired knee holds up, the Tennessee back will be hard to bring down

After watching the Atlanta Falcons march to the Super Bowl last
season, Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders remembers
thinking that most people had the Jamal comparison backward. It
wasn't the Volunteers' explosive back Jamal Lewis who played
like Falcons All-Pro Jamal Anderson, it was the other way
around. "We've had great backs come through this school," says
Sanders, "and none of them have been as strong as Jamal. His
speed is as good, if not better, than all of them."

For now we'll have to take Sanders's word for it. After starting
1998, his sophomore season, by rushing for 497 yards, three
touchdowns and a 6.8 average in his first four games, the
6-foot, 225-pound Lewis missed the rest of the season when he
tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee against
Auburn. Following surgery and almost a year of rehabilitation,
Lewis appears to be his old self.

"I haven't lost a step--in fact, I think I might be faster,"
says Lewis, who adds that he can still run a 4.4 in the 40. "I'm
100 percent physically and I'm almost there mentally. Sometimes
I get an ache in the knee and that disturbs me, but the doctors
say that's normal. Sitting out makes you more hungry for the
game." That's good, because nothing sours a pro scout faster
than a knee injury. "If he plays the way he did before the
injury, Lewis can be a franchise back," says one NFL director of
college scouting. "You don't see many true freshmen do what this
kid did."

Lewis exploded onto the scene by rushing for 1,364 yards and
seven touchdowns in 1997, drawing comparisons with Herschel
Walker and Bo Jackson. "I consider my style to be elusive speed
with power," Lewis says. "I can run around or through people."
If he puts up numbers like he did before the injury, Lewis may
have NFL observers referring to Anderson as the other Jamal.


COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER IDEAL NFL TEAM With Barry Sanders gone, Lewis could be just the guy to run behind the Lions' massive offensive line.