CHARLOTTE -- To this day, the number astounds him.
The good news for Carolina Panthers defensive end Damione Lewis is that he's at least in a better position to change it.
Lewis shook his head Thursday when asked about the memory of last year's lack of pass rush, which reached record-lows. The Panthers managed a franchise-low 23 sacks, and just 14.5 of those came from the defensive line.
"It was really shocking, to be honest with you," Lewis said. "You could never have told me that we would have 23 sacks at the end of the season. It's just one of those things, every team goes through a drought. It happens, but it was unfortunate that it happened to us last year.
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"Any time you get 23 sacks, you've got to beat that. It's just not something you go to sleep thinking you're going to wake up at the end of the season and there's going to be 23 sacks at the end of the season. To us, that's embarrassing. We have a lot of redemption (to get) in that case."
The Panthers are taking a number of steps to fix that, and Lewis represents one of the most significant.
Coach John Fox put it simply earlier this spring when he said, "We had to do things to get a better pass rush ... we are taking a little bit different approach there, in particular with at least one of the defensive tackles. We'll see how that works out."
The change centers on the difference between Lewis and the guy he's replacing in the starting lineup, Kris Jenkins. While they were able to play a more controlled style with the massive Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu keeping blockers off their small, quick linebackers, now they're doing business differently.
"I think we're doing more attacking up front," Lewis said. "We're going to have a lot more blitzes. A lot of them are going to see the same to our opponent and I think that gives us an advantage because they're not going to be able to read what we're doing by where guys are lining up. That's really it.
"It's not too much more complicated than what we're doing last year. Actually, it's simpler. It's just more disguising."
At the heart of the matter, Lewis gets one gap to cover, and he'll try to bust through it to create pressure up the middle. It's been the thing he's good at as a third-down pass rusher, although his inability to impress as an every-down player led St. Louis to get rid of the former first-rounder. He has 18.5 sacks in six seasons, 8.0 of them the last two years with the Panthers.
"I don't see it as a lot more pressure," Lewis said. "I'm going to be me. I'm not Kris. I'm not his style of player. I'm going to do what I can do. I did a good job playing the run last year. I did a good job pass-rushing. I just hope more snaps creates more plays. Just continue to build on that.
"I kind of look forward to the challenge and with the freedoms they're giving us up front. Maybe we can get out and be a little more creative. I'm kind of liking it. I'm really getting into it. Trying to see how I fit into it and how I move in it. It's completely different. It's brand-new. It's going to take us a while to get a good taste of it. It'll probably be training camp before we really know how it's going to work for our advantage. It's really hard to tell out here without the pads on."
The Panthers obviously were confident Lewis could handle the new responsibilities, giving him a three-year, $14 million contract to do so. They were encouraged that he tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks in his part-time role, but there's still a speculative element to it.
Even Lewis knows the key to the pass rush lies out of his hands, as they can't afford a repeat of Julius Peppers' 2.5 sacks if they're going to be successful. Talking about the 14.5 sacks Panthers linemen totaled last year, Lewis laughed and said, "The year before, Pep almost had more than that himself."
Peppers had 13.0 sacks in 2006.
Still, keeping some pressure up the middle will provide some insurance against another dip (as well as the question mark at the other end, where Tyler Brayton and Charles Johnson are competing for a job). Because of that pressure, Lewis knows the money they lavished on him in February will dry up quickly if he can't perform.
"Yes it does (show confidence), but it also shows they have a lot of expectations that I have to fulfill," Lewis said "You have to earn that. It's not something that they just give you. I'm looking forward to it.
"Right now, I still feel like I've got a lot to prove."