New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis gained 1,110 yards from scrimmage and scored a team-high 9 touchdowns in the 2017 regular season. James White added 600 yards of his own and 3 touchdowns. Rex Burkhead chipped in 518 yards and 8 touchdowns. Mike Gillislee picked up 398 yards and 5 touchdowns. Even Brandon Bolden gained 74 yards over the final two weeks.
Lewis is the presumed starter heading into Super Bowl LII, but the “starter” distinction is irrelevant when you ask the Patriots running backs because they’re all one team with one goal and they’ve all had an opportunity to shine.
“We’ve all been in past situations where we weren’t the starter or were the starter or sharing time,” Bolden said. “We all know what it takes to win a game. It’s going to take everybody in here. [I’ll do] Whatever they need me to do. I mean, I told them that my rookie year. Winning’s winning, losing’s losing. Whatever I can do to help the team, sign me up for that.”
Bolden is the veteran of the running backs with six seasons in New England and he winks and says he deserves credit for the culture in the room. White is in his fourth season and Lewis is in his third, while both Burkhead and Gillislee are in their first season with the Patriots.
And over the course of this season, each has carved out their own role with the team.
“To me, we all do the same thing, we’re just different sizes. That’s it,” Bolden said while comparing the running backs to Russian nesting dolls. “You got the big one, you get the semi-big one, you got the semi-small one, you got the semi-big small one, and, no offense, then you got Dion. We go all the way down the line because we all do the same thing, but we’re all different.”
My guess is Brandon Bolden (who is listed as the heaviest back on the roster) is the “big one,” Mike Gillislee is the “semi-big one,” James White is the “semi-small one,” Rex Burkhead is the “semi-big small one,” and
James Develin Dion Lewis is “Dion.”
Is there any consistency in how the team decides which player to use?
“That’s the problem,” Bolden laughed. “Everybody’s trying to figure that out. You will go crazy trying to figure that out. We don’t know. We just show up to work everyday and it doesn’t matter. Whoever it is, there’s never an animosity over playing time because we like to see each other win and we want to see everybody do well.”
Lewis is currently the hot hand and he should continue to serve as the feature back, while White will play in the hurry up or on obvious passing downs when the team needs a blocker in the backfield. Burkhead is still working his way into the lineup after suffering his late-season injury and could give Lewis rest on a drive or two, Bolden will be a core special teams player, and Gillislee will likely serve as Eagles running backs LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, and Corey Clement on the scout team.
And while Lewis is projected to have a strong outing against the Eagles, the Patriots have full confidence in all of their running backs to step up when their number is called.