FOXBORO, Mass. — Dion Lewis is pigeonholed as a third-down running back because of his small stature, but he has proven to be much more in his short time with the New England Patriots.
Lewis, who’s just 5-foot-8, 195 pounds, is on pace for 160 carries and 11 rushing touchdowns for the Patriots this season. Only Kevin Faulk has received more carries as an undersized Patriots running back, when he collected 164 and 178 in 2000 and 2003, respectively, and no “third-down” back has ever come close to double-digit rushing touchdowns in New England.
The Patriots rewarded Lewis on Thursday with a two-year contract extension, which shows they have faith in the running back and believe he has a bright future with the team. Lewis will earn base salaries of $591,240 in 2015, $800,000 in 2016 and $1.2 million in 2017, according to the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe. Lewis received a $600,000 signing bonus with the extension, and it will be evenly spread out throughout his contract. He’ll earn an additional $12,500 for each game he’s on the 46-man active roster in 2016 and 2017, and he can make up to $400,000 in additional playing-time incentives if he plays 60 percent of the Patriots’ offensive snaps in 2016 and 2017. He’ll earn $200,000 if he plays just 40 percent of offensive snaps and $300,000 if he plays 50 percent of Patriots offensive snaps.
“He’s got good short-area quickness, good change of direction,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Friday morning. “I think for his size, he’s got good power. He’s never going to be a 240-pound power back, but for his size, he’s got good power and explosiveness. You see him put his shoulder down and pick up a couple extra yards or run through those light tackles, as well as his ability to make guys miss in space and change direction.
“He’s got a number of ways he can get extra yards, and his ability to catch the ball, his ability to run inside and outside gives you a lot of options with a guy like that in the game. He makes the most out of what he’s got. He’s got a good skill set. It’s not the same as other guys, but he can make his work and he’s done it on a number of different levels — first down, second down, third down, running game, passing game, inside, outside, kick returns. He’s got a lot to work with there.”
Belichick also complimented Lewis on his work off the field. Lewis came into OTAs, minicamp and training camp trailing prospective third-down backs James White, Brandon Bolden and Travaris Cadet on New England’s depth chart and willed his way into the starting running back role, even on early downs. Lewis is on pace for an absurd 1,734 yards from scrimmage after beginning the season with 30 carries for 146 yards and 15 catches for 179 yards.
“I think off the field Dion has been great,” Belichick said. “Had a really good offseason for us, works hard, is a well-conditioned player, trains hard, he’s strong, he does a very good job of really knowing — the volume we have on offense is extensive. He’s done a good job of learning obviously all the running back stuff, but extended plays, empty plays, things like that where he’s playing out of the backfield, various things.
“He did a good job for us in the kicking game. We could use him as a kickoff returner. Danny (Amendola) has done a good job for us there, too. We have some other options, but he’s shown value in the kicking game, shown value on all three downs on offense. He does a good job of learning. He’s learned a lot of different spots, a lot of different adjustments — all the different blitz pickups and so forth in the passing game — so he’s picked things up well.
“He works hard. He’s tough. He’s here every day. Very coachable, just really tries to do what you ask him to do, whatever it is he just doesn’t ask any questions, he just works hard to get it right. You love to coach guys like that.”
Thumbnail photo via Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports Images
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