Giardi: Elusive 2015 version of Dion Lewis has returned


Giardi: Elusive 2015 version of Dion Lewis has returned

Dion Lewis has adopted a mantra this year, “I’m small but I’m not little.” If you’ve been paying attention over the past couple of weeks, the Patriots’ running back has spit that line back at reporters, usually doing it with a confident smile. 

His point is that people might be confused by his lack of height and think Lewis is a scatback-type. Hardly. That 5-7  (maybe…) body packs more power pound for pound then even backs 15 to 20 pounds bigger.


“Yeah, I mean I agree with that,” said Bill Belichick on a conference call Tuesday. “I think there are a lot of backs that fit into that category, that are short but not small guys. They have good lower body strength, can take contact and run through arm tackles and can run through contact. I would definitely put him [Lewis] in that category. He’s got good balance, good lower body strength and good vision but when guys get a shot at him he’s able to maintain his balance and get through a lot of those hits. I think that’s a credit to his strength, power and balance. He’s short but he’s not a little guy. I agree with that.”
“Dion is not thin. That’s for sure,” noted offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “He’s got power, he’s got quickness, he’s got speed. He does a lot of things well and sometimes he can be difficult to find back there from the defense’s perspective.”
Sunday was the most recent example of good things coming in small but powerful packages with Lewis. He had 18 touches against Oakland and forced 10 missed tackles by my count. 10. That’s exactly what Lewis did when he burst onto the scene at the start of the 2015 season, becoming one of the league’s biggest surprises before blowing out his knee. His performance this season - starting in Week 5 in Tampa - shows that he’s back to being that same player.
“I don’t know where he’s at relative to what he was,” said McDaniels. “That’s really no one’s concern. He’s playing well and he’s got a good solid role on our team and does whatever we ask him to do to help us win each week.”
Lewis was ready to run long before the Pats made him the focal point of their backfield. His carries backed that feeling up. Yet his snap count was on the low end. Perhaps the Pats wanted to give Mike Gillislee first crack. Or maybe they wanted to see how Lewis’ knee responded to a long training camp during which he got so many touches and snaps some wondered if he was being shopped or in danger of being cut. Privately, the Pats insisted that wasn’t the case, that they were still bullish on the 27-year old’s ability. That faith is now being rewarded.

“He did a lot of good things for us in training camp,” said Belichick. “We gave him a significant amount of playing time in the preseason games, including kickoff returns, and so I think he’s done a good job all year. How he feels he can answer that better than I can, how it feels as compared to some other point in time. But he’s out there, he’s doing everything, I think he’s done well.”
The better he performs, the more it’s clear he’s the best option the Pats have at that position. Lewis can change a game and do it in a variety of ways.
“This guy is just a unique player with a unique skill set that we enjoy having around here,” said McDaniels. “I think Dion has proven over time he can do and contribute in a lot of different areas. We’ve seen him do it as a kickoff returner, as running back getting the ball handed to him, we’ve seen him do it as a blitz pick-up guy on third downs, we’ve seen him do it as a back catching the ball out of the backfield like he did the other day and we’ve seen him extend from the formation. He’s smart and he’s tough and he cares about playing hard...He’s a guy we’re fortunate to have.”

What Bill Belichick's pro day tour tells us about Patriots draft strategy

What Bill Belichick's pro day tour tells us about Patriots draft strategy

It’s one of the rites of spring. This is the time of year NFL fans across America overemphasize the importance of their team’s coach or general manager popping up at a particular program’s pro day. You can set your watch to it. 

Coach X showed up at University Y so you KNOW he wants Player Z!

The pro day circuit is just one aspect of the pre-draft preparation process for NFL clubs, though. The information gleaned from stops on college campuses through March and early April is, as Bill Belichick might say, just part of the evaluation mosaic. 

The tape matters. The combine matters. Private workouts matter. Official visits matter. Claiming a meeting or an interview between a player and a club at any one of these spots will dictate a draft-day match is foolhardy. 

Still . . . it's interesting to track teams’ whereabouts in order to see if any trends develop.

Here we'll lay out where the two primary players in the Patriots front office, Belichick and Nick Caserio, have been spotted over the last couple weeks since pro days kicked off. Their itinerary may be nothing but a sliver of a view into where the team's interests lay, but we’ll take that sliver with the understanding that it is what it is.


Belichick made his seemingly annual trip to the University of Alabama to catch up with old friend Nick Saban and see some of the college game's top prospects. The Crimson Tide could have more than a dozen players drafted, and most of their top prospects reside on the defensive side of the ball. Receiver Calvin Ridley, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne shoild be long gone by the time the Patriots pick at No. 31, but there are plenty of other talented defenders they could have a shot at. Linebacker Rashaan Evans (6-foot-3, 234) would be an interesting fit for a defense that could use an addition to its second level. Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (6-4, 297) is intriguing because of his versatility as a base end who could rush from the inside in sub situations. Safety Ronnie Harrison (6-3, 214) also seems like a Patriots type. Even punter JK Scott could be on their radar. 


Caserio headed to Wisconsin's pro day, where linebacker Jack Cichy posted a very strong short-shuttle (4.28 seconds) and three-cone times (7.10). He's an off-the-ball type who measured in at 6-foot-2, 234 pounds and is projected by to go on Day 3. The Badgers don't have quite as many pro prospects as Alabama, but they have seven or eight who could hear their names called on draft weekend. Corner Nick Nelson (5-11, 208) and edge defender Leon Jacobs (6-3, 230) were two of Wisconsin's best players, and would’ve been worth a look from the Patriots director of player personnel. 


Belichick kept a close eye on the defensive linemen participating in NC State's pro day Monday. Bradley Chubb is expected to be the first defensive player taken in the draft so the Patriots won't have a shot at him (which Belichick admitted to Chubb following the workout), but defensive tackle BJ Hill (6-4, 315) may have been of interest. He's thought of as a mid-rounder after a very strong showing at the Senior Bowl and a solid combine. Kentavius Street (6-2, 280) is really powerful as a defensive end and could be had toward the end of the draft. Belichick also reportedly spent some time watching backs Nyheim Hines (5-8, 197) and Jaylen Samuels (5-11, 233) run routes. 

Caserio, meanwhile, kept a close eye on the workout put together by Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside (6-2, 201). Our Mike Giardi put together a piece on Woodside, who tested well at the combine and is considered to have a good football IQ, earlier this offseason. Read it. Caserio was joined at Toledo by Patriots scout Patrick Stewart, who was also present for Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta's pro day.


Belichick went from NC State to South Carolina where he reportedly met with tight end Hayden Hurst for the second time. Hurst (6-4, 250), a walk-on who played two years of minor-league baseball, may be the first tight end taken in this year's draft. Linebacker Skai Moore (6-2, 221) was extremely productive for the Gamecocks, leading the team in tackles all four years of his career, which Belichick clearly appreciated. Moore told reporters after his pro day work out that he met with Belichick for an hour and that Belichick told him he's a great player. Belichick and Moore also met at the combine, Moore said.

So what can we make of Belichick and Caserio's stops thus far? We’re careful not to make too much of these stops visits, but here are some quick-hitting thoughts . . .

* They appear to want more information on the draft's second (or third) tier of quarterbacks. It should come as no surprise that the Patriots won't be in the running to select passers like USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen or Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. But the group that includes Woodside, Lauletta and others -- perhaps Washington State's Luke Falk, whose pro day will be at Utah State on Mar. 28, Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, and Western Kentucky's Mike White -- seems to be of interest.

* Are the Patriots looking for their next playmaker at tight end? Even with Rob Gronkowski on the roster (assuming he returns in 2018) the Patriots could use another pass-catcher at this spot. Their interest in Hurst is intriguing. If they pop up at South Dakota State's pro day on Mar. 30 -- home of Dallas Goedert -- then that might be an indication they are considering a running mate and heir apparent for Gronkowski. 

* Outside of offensive tackle, off-the-ball linebacker might be the biggest need the Patriots have not addressed via trade or free agency this offseason. It would come as little surprise if they opted for a rookie (or two) who play that position in this year's draft. Evans is among the draft's most talented at that spot, but there are some questions around the league as to whether or not he'd be the traffic cop that, for instance, Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower have been for the Patriots. Getting a closer look at Cichy and Moore would also seem to indicate that New England is taking a close look at a newer (smaller) breed at that spot. Belichick has long liked bigger linebackers, but as the speed of the game picks up perhaps he’ll be more open to going small(ish) here. The Patriots were represented at Viriginia Tech's pro day on Mar. 14 (home of top linebacker prospect Tremaine Edmunds) and it'll be interesting to see if they show up at Boise State (home of Leighton Vander Esch) on April 3. Belichick is reportedly headed to Georgia's pro day on Wednesday, where he'll have a chance to see athletic off-the-ball 'backer Roquan Smith and athletic edge player Lorenzo Carter. Either would immediately provide the Patriots front-seven with a shot of athleticism. 

* That Belichick has seen a boatload of talented defensive linemen at Alabama and NC State isn't a shocker. While they may not have a glaring need up front for 2018 — especially after trading for Danny Shelton and signing Adrian Clayborn — both Shelton and Malcom Brown could be elsewhere in 2019 if the Patriots don't pick up their fifth-year options. Trey Flowers is also headed into a contract year. 


Quick Slants the Podcast: Ranking the Patriots additions, are the Patriots better defensively, but worse offensively?

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Quick Slants the Podcast: Ranking the Patriots additions, are the Patriots better defensively, but worse offensively?

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry go over the moves the Patriots have made this offseason and rank their favorite moves and what to expect from those players.

(1:00) Ranking the Patriots acquisitions so far.

(5:30) Will Danny Shelton or Jason McCourty have a bigger impact n the Patriots defense?

(13:00) What can Patriots fans realistically expect from Cordarrelle Patterson?

(16:00) Are the Patriots a better team now than they were at the end of the Super Bowl?

(17:00) What is the next position in need for the Patriots?

(23:00) How concerning is the tension level between Belichick/Brady/Gronkowski, when should Patriots fans start to panic?