Dion Lewis, James White Heat Up Patriots’ Third-Down Back Competition

The New England Patriots running backs are in a dead heat for the third-down role after two preseason games.

The competition has narrowed down to four backs: James White, Brandon Bolden, Travaris Cadet and Dion Lewis. Cadet and Bolden have yet to see the field during the preseason — the former because of injuries and the latter for unknown reasons (Bolden received just four offensive snaps last preseason, so there’s nothing to be concerned about).

White shined last week in the Patriots’ preseason opener, gaining 64 total yards on 12 touches, and showing off impressive quickness and footwork in the open field, though he struggled at times in blitz pickup.

It was Lewis’ time to stand out Saturday night against the New Orleans Saints, though White also turned some heads for the second straight week.

Lewis gained 12 yards on the ground, including an 11-yard touchdown run. He also caught five passes on five targets for 36 yards and did a nice job protecting the Patriots’ quarterbacks.

White had an 11-yard scamper of his own, while running for 23 yards on nine carries with a touchdown. He also caught one pass out of the backfield for 20 yards.

So, as the third-down competition stands now, Bolden still is receiving the lion’s share of snaps during practice, while Lewis and White each are standing out in games. That could leave Cadet in the dust if he can’t get healthy soon.

The Patriots typically like to carry two smaller, shiftier pass-catching backs, plus Bolden, who contributes heavily on special teams. That means that two of White, Lewis and Cadet likely will make the roster, but whittling down the position won’t be easy for coach Bill Belichick. Cadet is a bigger player who can contribute more versatility in the passing game, but he lacks experience as a blocker.

Cadet came with lofty expectations because he’s a somewhat-known commodity signed during a free-agent period when the Patriots were doing little else. But he was a restricted free agent not tendered by the Saints, and his contract includes just $65,000 guaranteed, so he’s certainly not a lock for the 53-man roster.

Lewis, 24, was drafted in 2011, while Cadet, 26, went undrafted in 2012. White, 23, was a fourth-round draft pick in 2014.

The third-down role has been an important part of the Patriots’ offense since Bill Belichick took over the team in 2000, and the position has been passed down from Kevin Faulk to Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen. There never has been as much uncertainty surrounding the position, but Lewis and White’s impressive preseason performances should give the Patriots hope for the 2015 season.

Bolden can always take on the spot, as he did in 2013, if White, Lewis or Cadet falter.

Thumbnail photo via Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports Images

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