With LeSean McCoy sidelined for the regular season finale last year, Dion Lewis got to chance to show what he could do as the feature back.
Lewis acquitted himself nicely with a career-high 58 yards and his first-career touchdown in the 34-10 win over the Washington Redskins.
"It's a great feeling coming into the offseason because I know I can play," Lewis said. "I just have to keep building on that and get better every day."
Once the offseason began, a question mark at the running back position was who would backup McCoy in 2012? The All-Pro McCoy proved he was an elite running back in 2011, but he also shouldered an extensive part of the load ranking fourth in the league in offensive touches. Head coach Andy Reid expressed the desire to reduce McCoy's load in 2012 to keep him fresh for a playoff run as well as help extend his career.
The Eagles did not sign a veteran running back. They did not draft one until the seventh round. Lewis has been at the NovaCare Complex all offseason hoping to fill that backup role. He knows that the competition for touches is underway as two weeks of the Organized Team Activities are in the books.
"He definitely got a lot of touches last year, but he's a great player. At the same time, you want to keep one of your better players healthy," Lewis said of McCoy. "Knowing that there's an opening to get more touches, you know you've got to compete. At the same time, you've got to show it in practice by not making mistakes and making plays."
A common theme this offseason is the fact that the players have an offseason. A fifth-round pick in 2011 out of Pitt, Lewis was thrown into the mix in training camp and earned the No. 3 spot behind McCoy and Ronnie Brown after leading the team in rushing in the preseason. Lewis' main role was as the team's kickoff return specialist as he averaged 21.6 yards per return on 31 attempts. Lewis finished the year with 102 rushing yards on 23 carries.
Lewis admitted that it was quite a difference compared to his college career. In two seasons at Pitt, Lewis set the school record for most rushing yards by a freshman and a sophomore. That record was previously held by McCoy.
The 5-8, 195-pound Lewis has a strong backer in special teams quality control coach Duce Staley, who believes that Lewis can indeed seize the backup job this season. Staley has preached the importance of pass protection and route running in the Eagles offense. Taking advantage of re-learning the basics, Lewis said that he's making fewer mistakes on the field.
"I know everything now, so I'm able to play without thinking. It's helping a lot," Lewis said. "I can get back to being me."
Lewis will get the chance to show he can handle the backup job. And as good as McCoy was in 2011, he could be even better if Lewis can follow through.
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