Why Was Dion Lewis Playing So Deep Into Patriots’ First Preseason Game?

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FOXBORO, Mass. — Amid a group of backups and players unlikely to crack the Patriots’ 53-man roster, one player stood out Thursday night in New England’s preseason opener.

Running back Dion Lewis, who has started 11 of 14 games he’s suited up with the Patriots, played the entire first half, sharing snaps with Brandon Bolden.

It’s easy to place Lewis squarely on the Patriots’ roster bubble after he played for so long in the preseason opener while the rest of the starters and roster locks stood comfortably on the sideline. And while he might be, it also may not be the entire reason why Lewis played so long. Lewis missed the entire preseason last year after multiple knee surgeries. While he was effective in seven regular season games and three playoff appearances, Lewis wasn’t as explosive in 2016 as he looked before tearing his ACL in 2016.

The Patriots could simply be testing Lewis to see how he looks a full year removed from the knee issues.

So far, pretty good for Lewis, who carried the ball seven times for 32 yards and added another 23 yards on four catches and five targets.

Lewis is part of a crowded backfield, however. And he could be battling Bolden for the final spot in a four-headed running back corps that almost certainly will include James White, Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, none of whom played Thursday night. While Lewis can return kicks, Bolden has more overall special teams value. Bolden carried the ball five times for 33 yards and caught two passes for 24 yards against the Jaguars.

Lewis would be easy to cut or trade because of his contract. He would count only $200,000 against the cap if released. And if he doesn’t look as explosive as he did during the 2015 season, then perhaps the Patriots would be willing to part ways with him since his role could be overtaken by White, Gillislee, Burkhead and Bolden.

There’s also the issue of D.J. Foster, who the Patriots liked enough to keep on their roster for all but a few days last season despite playing in just three games. He shined in the spring but has had an inconsistent training camp. He scored a touchdown and fumbled Thursday night. Is it worth potentially losing Foster or Bolden for a player like Lewis who hasn’t proven he can stay healthy in the NFL?

It will be interesting to track Lewis’ playing time throughout the preseason. If he’s still taking up snaps in the fourth preseason game, it could spell trouble for him. It’s not a great early sign that he was on the field for so long Thursday night, however.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

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