Kapron Lewis-Moore is knee-deep in empathy for ND's Jaylon Smith

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

In a rare rehab-free January for Kapron Lewis-Moore, the most traumatic thing that happened to the former Notre Dame defensive end was his mother rearranging his furniture eight times during a nine-day visit.

“It was so nice to just relax in January for a change,” said Lewis-Moore, currently a reserve defensive lineman with the Baltimore Ravens.

Even the down time wasn’t completely angst-free, though.

On Jan. 1, a day his couch was stationary, Lewis-Moore planted himself in front of the TV to watch his alma mater take on Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The game wasn’t a quarter old when ND star linebacker Jaylon Smith’s left knee crumpled and his NFL future blurred.

And Lewis-Moore went into flashback mode.

The 6-foot-4, 315-pounder suffered a torn ACL in his right knee himself in his final collegiate game, ND’s 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship on Jan. 7, 2013. This, after a strong 2012 season had elevated him from a NFL Draft long-shot to a seemingly certain late-rounder, at worst.

Before the injury.

“To be honest, I bawled my eyes out,” he said in the moments after he was taken to the locker room at Sun Life Stadium at Miami Gardens, Fla. “I was in shambles, man.

“For some reason, my mom came in like five or 10 minutes afterward. And I was like, ‘I won’t be able to play football ever again. I’m not going to the NFL anymore. Blah, blah, blah.’

“What was funny was my mom was so calm, which I never expected. She was so positive and nonchalant. ‘Things will work out.’ I was like, ‘No, they won’t.’ After I settled down, a couple of days later, I started to believe her.”

In the coming days, Lewis-Moore plans to reach out to Smith, whom he got to know well during Smith’s recruiting process, even though the two were never teammates at Notre Dame.

The two visited this season when Lewis-Moore traveled to Pittsburgh during the first weekend in November for ND’s game at Pitt that coincided with a bye week for the Ravens.

“What people have to realize is there are some things that are similar in recovery from knee injuries, but in so many more ways, everybody’s different,” Lewis-Moore said. “My advice to him is, ‘Don’t get frustrated.

“ ‘The people leading the rehab, they’re there to help you. They’re not going to do anything to your knee that you can’t do. Just trust the process, trust the rehab, and just try to control what you can control.’

“As far as when he’ll be able to play in his first NFL game, it could be a seven-month recovery. It could be 12 months. You might be ahead of schedule now, and behind schedule later. Jaylon playing in 2016 is not impossible, but who knows. I really believe everything happens for a reason.”

While Lewis-Moore suffered an ACL tear, Smith reportedly tore both the ACL and LCL.

“We had a conversation with him earlier in the week,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday of Smith. “He's really excited about his progress. He's making great progress.

“He feels like he's a couple of weeks ahead of it from where they were expecting him to be. He expects to be at the (NFL) combine, not testing but to be open for interviews and to do interviews. So real positive news on the Jaylon Smith front.”

Smith, who declared as an early entry for the April 28-30 NFL Draft, was considered a top five pick before the injury. Draft analysts believe he’ll drop because of the injury, but not precipitously. The consensus for his floor seems to be No. 20 in the first round, with some having Smith going as early as No. 6, still.

Lewis-Moore, under contract with Baltimore through the 2016 season, ended up getting drafted perhaps a round later than expected, with the Ravens selecting him with the first pick of round No. 6 in the 2013 draft. He was placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list to start his rookie season and was never activated.

“I actually practiced for like two weeks later in the season,” he said. “I think they were all set with their defensive line, so there was no reason to bring me up or anything like that. It was one of those things where it was, ‘Keep working, keep getting stronger and be ready for OTAs next year.’ ”

Lewis-Moore said picking a surgeon to repair the torn ACL actually came easy for him, with his agents, Dave Lee and Andy Simms of PlayersRep, doing all the research and legwork.

The Texan, who spent most of his college offseasons in the Chicago area working out at Elias Fitness Training in Highland Park, Ill., wanted to continue in that comfort zone as he began his rehab, so his agents linked him with the Chicago Bears’ medical staff for the surgery.

His next step was doing interviews and getting a thorough medical evaluation at the NFL Combine in late February of 2013. Once the Ravens drafted Lewis-Moore, the team took over his rehab.

“That was a little bump in the road,” Lewis-Moore said. “The Ravens staff kind of had to reassess where I was at. They had to kind of see where my knee was at, what kind of power I had in my leg, what kind of range of motion and all that.

“Once we figured that out, we just kind of took it from there and just kept going.”

Lewis-Moore was already a rehab veteran at that point. His 2011 season was truncated by a detached MCL in his right knee that required surgery.

His third surgery in four years occurred in August in 2014, after Lewis-Moore suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in his left foot in training camp. That was a much longer rehab than either of the knee injuries and pushed him onto the Ravens’ Injured Reserve list for the entire 2014 season.

Lewis-Moore finally made his NFL debut in his third pro season, Sept. 13 in Denver against the eventual AFC champion Broncos. He had two tackles in the 19-13 Baltimore loss and ended up seeing action in four other games in 2015.

‘It was pretty awesome, but I was super nervous, and a lot of emotions were going through my mind,” he said of his delayed debut. “It was cool and weird all at the same time listening to Peyton (Manning) say ‘Omaha’ and things like that. I was just like, ‘Hey, this is for real.’

“I played maybe 12-15 plays, and I got to go up against another Notre Dame guy, Ryan Harris, who’s an offensive lineman for the Broncos. After the game, he was kind of like, ‘Hey, it was good to see you out there and battle through your injuries.’ That was kind of cool.

“The Notre Dame connections are great. I just want Jaylon to know if he needs anything from me, I’m ready to be there for him, too.

“It’s obviously very upsetting he got hurt in the last game, but he’s such a good player, I think NFL GMs are going to realize the talent this guy has when he’s healthy. Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to mess him up at all.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Former Notre Dame defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore (89), now with the Baltimore Ravens,  is helped off the field after sustaining a Knee injury during the first half of the BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 7, 2013 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Tribune File Photo)