Patriots running back Dion Lewis returned to the practice field this week after an ACL tear that sidelined him for almost a year. This news brought a tremendous amount of excitement to the Pats fanbase. New England media welcomed the return of the elusive running back, but told fans to take caution – Dion Lewis was, after all, “injury-prone.” Fans and fantasy owners were told not to expect too much from Lewis and calls were made for the Patriots to bring him back slowly and with care. I say that’s a load of crap.
Dion Lewis is no stranger to adversity. If you haven’t noticed, he’s 5’8″ and playing in the NFL. His path hasn’t been easy, but it also has NOT been riddled with injuries. Dion Lewis transferred to Blair Academy for his junior year of high school to get more serious about his studies and his football career. Lewis’ football coach at Blair, Jim Stone, recalls Dion’s “amazing talent…he was such a competitor but also so humble. I don’t think I ever saw him go full-speed because he just glides downfield.”He mentioned more than a few “wow” moments that made him realize that he had never seen an athlete like Dion in his 24 years of coaching at Blair. But this wasn’t what impressed Coach Stone the most. “Dion worked so incredibly hard. He was a great talent, but he trained a lot in the off-season and really turned it on when the season started. He was a great role model for younger players because they got to see that the best guy out there was also working the hardest to get better.”
(photo from the Blair Academy archives of Dion Lewis his senior year. I blurred out the faces of Dion’s teammates, but if you could see how baby-faced these kids are the size difference would be even more striking!)
Despite Lewis’ incredible talent and work ethic, Stone said, “everybody always doubted him.” The coach told me that they sent his film “everywhere,” but only heard back with scholarship offers from 3 schools – Pitt, Miami (Ohio), and Tulane. Nobody wanted to take a chance on a running back who stood at only 5’8″. That is, nobody but Dave Wannstedt, the head coach at Pitt. His star running back, LeSean McCoy, was rumored to be entering the draft and he was searching for an elusive replacement. It turned out that Wannstedt’s risk payed off. I could hear Coach Stone smiling through the phone when he recalled “It was so sweet when he got [to Pitt] and in his first season broke the rushing record and won Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors.” Lewis continued to pile-on the honors even being listed as a top 5 candidate for the prestigious Heisman Trophy.
In 2011, Dion Lewis entered the NFL draft. He was drafted by Joe Banner of the Eagles in the 5th round and followed LeSean McCoy to Philadelphia. For the 2011-12 season, the rookie played behind McCoy, the emerging star running back. McCoy took the field for 73% of snaps that year. Eagles offensive coordinator at the time, Marty Mornhinweg, told NFL columnist Dan Pompei last year, “when Dion had opportunities, he was outstanding.” Lewis played behind McCoy again in the 2012-13 season and was traded to Cleveland in late 2013. During the summer of 2013, while poised to take over a large role with the Cleveland offense, Dion broke his leg and was placed on season-ending IR while he recovered from surgery. He returned to the Browns for training camp the next season, but was quickly cut from the team as their preference had shifted to a larger backfield. He was picked up by the Colts one game into the 2013-14 season but his timing was poor – Indianapolis lost DT Art Jones to an ankle injury and needed to release Lewis immediately to make room for his replacement. Lewis tried out with 3 teams in the Fall of 2014 and luckily, the third was a charm. On 11/12/14 the New England Patriots signed Dion Lewis to a futures deal for the 2015-16 season. Lewis made immediate impact to the team’s running game in 2015, rushing for 234 yards, with 36 receptions for 388 yards and 2 touchdowns in 6 1/2 games. His success was halted in week 9. In a game against the Redskins, Lewis pulled up lame while carrying the ball and was later found to have torn his ACL. The running back was once again put on season-ending IR and had 2 surgeries -one to reconstruct the ACL in November 2015 and another more minor procedure (details unavailable) in June of 2016.
(Image credit to David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images)
So, you can see, despite being in the league for 5 seasons, Dion Lewis has not been on the field much. He did have a couple of injuries. Yes, Dion Lewis had 2 major injuries in 5 seasons. Does that really earn him the title “injury-prone?” Some may worry that his size and style of play could open him up to being more readily injured, but has he really shown that to be the case? When I think of a player with “an extensive injury history” I think hammy, groin pulls, high ankle sprain, hip pointer…lots of nagging injuries. Do a broken leg and an ACL tear fit into that category? Has Dion Lewis had lots of small nagging injuries? No. He’s had 2 really sucky big injuries that have kept him off of the playing field for 2 seasons. The other 3 seasons his coaches just didn’t think he was good enough to play!
Now “Little Dirty” is back at practice for New England. In full pads. He pushed himself hard all year to make his way back onto the field. Rest assured that he has been working on his speed and agility and was cleared because he’s on the verge of being game-ready. You can bet he’s feeding off of the media labels, thriving in the doubt. Because Dion Lewis has been here before. New England, hold onto your TB12 hats – as soon as #33 is back up to full game speed he’ll be looking for some records to break.
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