FOXBORO -- It would make sense for the Patriots to want to keep Dion Lewis under wraps this preseason. He's experienced a litany of devastating injuries over the course of his career. He's proven what he can do when fully healthy.
Why run him out there for an exhibition game? Better yet, why not manage him with the long-haul in mind, slowly working him back up to speed over the course of the season so that he's good to go when it matters most?
The Patriots seemed to have no such plans for the pint-sized dynamo on Thursday as he carried seven times (second-most on the team) for 32 yards. He also saw five targets (third-most), catching four for 23 yards. He played 23 snaps against the Jaguars, tied for the most of any Patriots running back along with DJ Foster.
About a year removed from knee surgery to repair a fractured patella, Lewis looked like the runner we saw in flashes last season. He was quick. He eluded defenders. He showed good hands.
Bill Belichick liked what he saw.
"Dion's had a good spring and a good summer, worked very hard in the offseason program, got an opportunity to do some things last night," the Patriots coach said during a conference call on Friday. "I thought he was very competitive, made some plays in the running game and in the passing game.
"Just overall an opportunity for backs to just sharpen up their skills, their run reads, getting tackled, dealing with contact, making those quick decisions with the ball in their hands that you practice in practice, but we all know it’s not quite the same as game situations, especially the tackling and contact part of it. I think it's good for those guys to get used to that, so the first one isn’t in a regular season game and they're not used to it. Hopefully, this will help to break them into that."
The workload Lewis took on could have been in some ways by necessity. Mike Gillislee is dealing with an injury and didn't play Thursday. Rex Burkhead and James White could have significant roles in the offense to start the season, and neither player participated Thursday.
That left Lewis, Foster, Brandon Bolden and LeShun Daniels Jr. to shoulder things as the available running backs.
For Lewis to handle his share without incident -- and while looking closer to the Dion Lewis of old in the process -- was a good development for the Patriots and their running back room. If he can remain healthy, Belichick and Josh McDaniels will have the ability to stress defenses with various combinations of their versatile backs on the field simultaneously.