FOXBORO -- If there was anyone qualified enough to go back in Patriots history to make a comparison between a former player and a current one, aside from Bill Belichick, it might be running backs coach Ivan Fears.
Fears arrived to New England two years before Belichick began his tenure as the team's head coach. He served as a receivers coach for three years and has coached the running backs ever since. Asked about Patriots running back Dion Lewis during a back-and-forth with reporters on Monday, Fears didn't have to dig all that deeply for a player with similar characteristics, mentioning Kevin Faulk as a good comparison.
"He’s very similar to Kevin," Fears said. "Kevin of course played at LSU and was a hell of an every-down back. The only limitation that these guys have had is the size factor. Everybody just knocked them because of it. But believe me, they’ve proven a lot of people wrong.
"Dion has still got a lot of work to do. We’re not giving him any crown right now. We’re just saying he’s been very good through three games and we look forward to see what he can do for us in the future."
Like Faulk, Lewis was an every-down back in college. At Pitt, he was the Big East Offensive Player of the Year as a true freshman in 2009 and he broke Pitt product Tony Dorsett's record for rushing yards by a freshman in the Big East.
Though he doesn't look like a between-the-tackles runner, Lewis has proved in his short time with the Patriots that he can fill that role when called upon.
"That was his MO at Pitt when he was in college," Fears said of the 5-foot-8, 195-pounder. "He was a very productive every-down back. He’s not unfamiliar with running in between the tackles, so we just let him do what he does. We try to feature the strong points of each one of those guys when they’re out there and Dion is an exceptional runner. That was his strong suit in college, and he’s kind of proven to us he can do more than that."
Through three games, Lewis has 146 yards rushing and 179 yards receiving. He's earned the trust of quarterback Tom Brady, and he provides the team an interesting contrast in style to last year's starter at the end of the season LeGarrette Blount.
Fears has been impressed with Lewis ever since the spring, and now the 25-year-old showing what he can do when the snaps matter.
"Just watching him in the practices and OTAs -- man, he’s got exceptional quickness and he’s got the vision to go with it," Fears said. "He’s got the Kevin Faulk-type of vision. He sees a lot, but he can make things happen because of his feet and his ability to change directions."