FOXBORO -- Dion Lewis has played 32 offensive snaps in three games for the Patriots this season. That's third among Patriots running backs, squarely behind Mike Gillislee (75) and James White (104), and ahead of Rex Burkhead (18) who was injured early in New England's Week 2 matchup with the Saints.
When Lewis first arrived to the Patriots in 2015, his snap counts were decidedly different as he saw a combined 154 snaps through three games. He was healthy then. And despite coming off of an injury-shortened 2016, he appears to be healthy now.
So what has changed?
Well, Bill Belichick's offensive personnel is decidedly different. James White has solidified himself as one of the team's most trusted offensive weapons. Mike Gillislee was signed as a restricted free agent in the offseason to be New England's big back.
That leaves Lewis as the smaller of two jack-of-all-trades all-purpose threats. Burkhead, who is still dealing with a rib injury and has missed two days of practice this week, is the other.
Lewis' torn ACL in 2015 and his subsequent patella fracture before the 2016 season could be significant pieces of the puzzle here as well. Lewis is clearly a dynamic offensive weapon when on the field, but perhaps the team would like to manage his workload in order to help keep him healthy for the stretch run.
Lewis has helped the team as its kick returner, giving him an opportunity at a few extra touches per game, and Belichick said on Friday that he likes what he's seen from Lewis when he's been on the field.
"I think Dion's been good," Belichick said. "Can make plays with the ball in his hands. Running game and the passing game. No problem with him in there. He's done a good job when he's gotten an opportunity."
Of his eight carries in 2017, Lewis has two of the more impressive short gains of the season.
The first came in the third quarter against the Chiefs, when Lewis was hit a yard behind the line of scrimmage, wiggled away, bounced off three tackles and somehow fell forward for five yards. The other came in the third quarter against the Saints, when Lewis was hit a yard behind the line of scrimmage again, spun out of two tackles, dove underneath two more hits, and fell forward for a one-yard gain.
Neither of those plays featured opposing defenses stacking the line of scrimmage the way they would in a third-and-one or fourth-and-one situation, but maybe the Patriots will be willing to try him in those spots against the Panthers this weekend.
Belichick has been open about the fact that the Patriots have struggled in short-yardage, and he said on Friday that he'd be comfortable handing the ball to Lewis when those types of plays arise.
"Sure. I think he's good with the ball in his hands," Belichick said. "Good vision. Runs hard. Low center of gravity. He's a hard guy to tackle. I think you could hand him the ball in any situation. Inside, outside. He's a hard guy to tackle. And he has good vision and he can find space."