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.
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“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.”