The mandatory phase of the New England Patriots' offseason workouts is over – at least until training camp starts in late July – and we have re-entered the quieter parts of the NFL calendar.
However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, by late August, each team has to start making its roster cuts. Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we'll take a look at running back Dion Lewis.
Name: Dion Lewis
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 33
Size: 5'8, 195 lbs.
2015 review: After not appearing in an NFL game the last two seasons, Lewis’ return to the gridiron was a glorious one. Despite playing only seven games, his first season in Foxboro was the best of his career and turned him into a star and a fan favorite.
While Lewis’ performance over the course of the Patriots’ training camp was noteworthy, it paled in comparison to what he did during the regular season. From opening day on, he was one of the team’s best players, an outstanding weapon with the football in his hands due to his elusiveness, strength and vision. No matter if it was catching or carrying the ball, Lewis was a big-play threat and one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL.
Unfortunately, his season was cut short by an ACL tear in week eight. At that point, he had already gained 622 yards from scrimmage and had scored four touchdowns. He was a true dual-threat running back, carrying the football 49 times for 234 yards and two scores, and catching it 36 times for 388 yards and two touchdowns. However, he also fumbled the ball twice.
Lewis, who has earned the nickname "Lil Dirty" because of his electrifying play, was on the field for 59.4% of the Patriots’ offensive snaps by the time he was placed on injured reserve. He made the best out of his playing time by making some of the most notable plays of New England’s 2015 season (like this one or this one). As a result, he earned a two-year extension just three weeks into the season.
2016 preview: While Lewis has to work his way back from injury, the reports out of Foxboro are definitely encouraging: according to Mike Reiss, he could be able to play if the season started this month. Seeing him go through drills over the course of OTAs and minicamp further strengthens this thought.
Of course, it is hard to project how Lewis will actually look like until he takes the field in pads and is put into competitive situations. Still, seeing his rehabilitation process go well is a good sign for a Patriots’ offense that saw its ability to move the football on the ground take a huge hit due to Lewis’ absence.
If healthy, Lewis is a surefire lock to make New England’s opening day roster and a projected fixture on the offense. Be it in passing or running situations, he once again should play a majority of the unit’s snaps – and hopefully be the difference-maker he was prior to his knee injury. If he is able to do that, then the Patriots’ running game should be in good shape.
Dion Lewis was New England’s feel-good-story of last season. After all, he went from little-known camp body to one of the most spectacular offensive players in the league within a few couple of weeks. Will he be able to also become the feel-good-story of this season? That remains to be seen. Judging by Lewis’ past, though, he will find a way.