CLEVELAND — Tommylee Lewis is right back where he started with the New Orleans Saints.
And, for once, that's a good thing.
Lewis, the diminutive wide receiver who surprisingly earned a role on the team a year ago by lighting up training camp, shot right back to the forefront of the players vying for a roster spot Thursday night by hauling in 10 catches for 124 yards and the Saints' only touchdown in their 20-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
"You only get but so many opportunities, so you've got to take them and run with it when you get a chance to make a play," Lewis said.
Lewis made plenty of plays on offense Thursday.
A year's worth of familiarity with the Saints helps. When Lewis lined up to the left side and saw that he faced man-to-man coverage in the third quarter, he looked toward third-year passer Garrett Grayson and gave him a wink.
Moments later, Lewis blew past Browns cornerback Darius Hillary and laid out for a 32-yard throw that Grayson placed just over his head, making arguably the Saints' biggest offensive play of the game.
"Grayson and I kind of always have a connection, going back to practice," Lewis said. "He gave me a shot to go get it."
A little later, Lewis made a different kind of play when he settled into a hole in the Browns' zone on the goal line and made a diving catch of a toss from Ryan Nassib for a 2-yard score.
CLEVELAND — The offseason is a learning process.
"Tommylee did a good job of getting open and making plays," Nassib said.
Lewis, who finds himself battling for a roster spot at a position that includes Michael Thomas, Willie Snead, Ted Ginn Jr. and training camp star Brandon Coleman, knew he needed to make an impression in the preseason. So he spent Wednesday listening to the words of Inky Johnson, a former Tennessee football player who suffered a paralyzed right arm after a hit during his college career and has since become a motivational speaker.
Lewis ultimately decided to treat Thursday's game as a reward for the hard work he has put in during the offseason and training camp so far.
"I was feeling good," he said. "We worked so hard to come out and have fun. That is what my mom said: 'Come out and have fun.’ Let the plays make themselves."
Lewis arguably faces a tougher fight for a spot on the 53-man roster than he did a year ago. The additions of Ginn and satellite back Alvin Kamara have given the Saints experience and promise in the return game, the primary role the 5-foot-7, 168-pound waterbug played last season.
Lewis got the first chance at returning kickoffs against the Browns and the second chance to return punts. Although he had two punt returns for 8 yards, he also made a mistake in not telling blockers to get away from a short, bounding boot — a miscue Kamara also made.
"(Lewis), too, had a pile on the ground where he has to get guys off him," Saints coach Sean Payton said.
With Ginn and Kamara on the team, Lewis may have to prove he can handle other roles on special teams, including coverage, as Payton acknowledged earlier this week.
Payton also alluded to substitution mistakes and other mishaps, and even though Lewis put up 10 catches in a game when no other receiver made more than three, there is still plenty he needs to do to make the 53-man roster for the second consecutive season.
Aaron Glenn doesn’t want to put Kenny Vaccaro in a box.
"It's just one game," Lewis said. "There's a whole bunch of stuff on film to clean up, a whole bunch of bad stuff I did out there. So, yeah, I made some plays, but there's a whole bunch of little stuff I need to correct if I want to take the next step."
Even so, Thursday's performance wasn't a bad start.