Dion Lewis is in a very familiar role being Saquon Barkley's backup with the New York Giants.
It's a position Lewis had the past two seasons in Tennessee, spelling NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry. He knows the requirements: be a good team player and be ready when needed.
That's why the Giants grabbed Lewis in free agency, signing the 29-year-old to a one-year, $1.55 million contract.
It also didn't hurt that that Lewis has played previously for new coach Joe Judge in New England and that he would be joining his favorite team as a child.
Lewis grew up in Albany, New York and was a frequent visitor at training camp to see guys likes Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard when the Giants spent a month at the University of Albany.
“When I got the opportunity with the circumstances, I couldn’t pass it up,” Lewis said on a conference call Friday. “I’m looking forward to working with coach Joe Judge, playing for my hometown team and getting to work with Saquon as well. There was a lot of positive factors.”
Lewis didn't get much work last season with the Titans because it was hard getting Henry off the field. The powerful running back carried 303 times for a career-best 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns in helping Tennessee get to the AFC title game.
Lewis played in all 16 games, but he was limited to 54 carries for 209 yards and no touchdowns. His biggest contribution was catching 25 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown.
The load was spread out a little more in 2018. Henry had 215 carries for 1,059 yards and 12 TDs; Lewis got seven starts and had 155 carries for 517 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a career-best 59 passes for 400 yards and a TD.
The reduction in playing time was a learning experience for Lewis, who will be entering his eighth NFL season. It taught him how to encourage teammates and how to offer advice.
“I am always very honest," Lewis said. “You watch the game from a different perspective, but at the same time you always have to be ready. You have to be alert, you have to be in shape. You never know when your number is going to be called. It’s a unique situation.”
Lewis believes working with Barkley will be good for both. He can impart some of his knowledge and he believes his competitive nature will push both men.
Last year's backup, Wayne Gallman, remains with the Giants.
Since the coronavirus pandemic has prevented teams from starting the offseason programs, Lewis and Judge have not had a chance to talk about his role.
“With a player like Saquon, you want him on the field as much as possible,” Lewis said. “He is one of the better backs in this league and I understand that. I’m just going to work hard, do whatever the coaches ask me to do, compete every day and try to figure it out that way instead of going in there with hopes or what I think is going to happen.”
If Lewis gets the chance for more action, he will be fresh after the last two seasons.
“I feel like I still can play, I can do the things I am accustomed to doing,” he said. "I still can make guys miss. Whatever they need me to do, if my number is called, I’ll be ready.
Drafted by the Eagles in 2011, Lewis has played in 86 regular-season games with 27 starts for Philadelphia (2011-12), New England (2015-17) and Tennessee (2018-19). He has 538 carries for 2,310 yards and 11 touchdowns, and 172 receptions for 1,281 yards and seven scores. He also has averaged 22.9 yards on 57 career kickoff returns, including a 103-yard touchdown with the Patriots in 2017, the last time he was used as a returner.
Judge was the special teams coordinator during Lewis’ time in New England.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL