Height is no disadvantage for Eagles' Dion Lewis

Posted: June 07, 2012

Dion Lewis is short.

There's no getting over it.

His teammates, as young men are wont to do, tease the Eagles running back.

On Wednesday after practice, as Lewis answered questions from a reporter and stood for video, Jason Babin walked by.

"Who's taller," the defensive end said, "Lewis or the camera lady? And he's got cleats on."

Lewis, listed at 5-foot-8 but probably closer to 5-6, smiled and took Babin's barb in stride. If the second-year running back played any other position his height would put him at a disadvantage. But Lewis' low center of gravity, he has said, gives him an edge over other ballcarriers.

Will it help put him head and shoulders - or at least a hair - over his rivals for the Eagles' backup spot? Lewis is second on the depth chart ahead of rookies Bryce Brown and Chris Polk and is taking the second-most amount of repetitions behind starter LeSean McCoy.

But evaluating running backs in shorts is as useful as an umbrella on a windy beach day. Several years ago Lorenzo Booker dazzled at minicamp. But when the hitting commenced at training camp, Booker was a decidedly different player. If Lewis is to win the job - or Brown or Polk for that matter - it will be done up at Lehigh and in the preseason.

"I'm definitely confident," Lewis said. "I got a year under my belt, got to play a little bit the last game, got a whole offseason this time. I'm not thinking. I'm just playing fast now."

Lewis, a 2011 fifth-round pick out of Pittsburgh, earned his roster spot last year with some nifty running during the preseason. But he was still behind Ronnie Brown and was used only sparingly until the final game against the Redskins as McCoy sat out with an injury.

Lewis ran 12 times for 58 yards and scored a touchdown against Washington as Brown mostly watched. While Brown's days in Philly were clearly over and Lewis' were just beginning, some felt the Eagles needed to add a starting-caliber tailback as McCoy's backup.

Free agents like Joseph Addai were available, but the Eagles felt they could get better value in the draft. So they took Bryce Brown in the seventh round and signed Polk as an undrafted free agent to push Lewis.

The Eagles aren't a running team and typically don't give the backup much to do, but Andy Reid has said on several occasions that the Eagles plan on cutting down on McCoy's this season. While that remains to be seen, it does suggest an increased role for the No. 2 running back.

"He didn't get that tired last year," Lewis said of McCoy. "But I just got to prepare myself knowing I'm open for more touches and more plays."

There's more to playing in the Eagles' West Coast offense than carrying the football and catching it out of the backfield. There's picking up the blitz and pass blocking. And Lewis still has to prove he can do it.

"I didn't do a lot of it in college, but I feel like I've come a long way," Lewis said. "It's about the will and the want to, and I will because I want to."

Bryce Brown, the enigmatic running back that left two college football programs, said last month that he had never been asked to block. It was a regular part of Polk's responsibilities at Washington. But Brown has looked much smoother as a runner and ball-catcher than Polk during spring practices.

Again, the real tests wait.

Lewis has another advantage over Bryce Brown and Polk in that he returned kicks for the Eagles last season. He had never done it before, however, and it often showed.

"Last year I didn't do too well," said Lewis, "so I want to redeem myself."

He'll have competition there, as well. Rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin, journeyman receiver Mardy Gilyard, undrafted wide receiver Damaris Johnson, undrafted cornerback Cliff Harris, and the still-here Chad Hall will vie with Lewis for the opening.

Assistant coach Duce Staley, a former kick returner and ace blocker, has taken Lewis under his wing.

"Duce is always on me, always pushing, always on me for every little thing," Lewis said as Staley happened to be walking by. "He wants everything to be perfect."

During the course of the interview, several players stopped to rib Lewis, although not always about his size. Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo asked him for his autograph. You can often tell how much a player is liked by his interaction with teammates on the opposite side of the ball.

All of the players that stopped to tease Lewis were from the defense, the last being 5-10 (wink-wink) linebacker Brian Rolle.

"At least," Lewis said, "I'm bigger than him."

Extra points. Defensive end Vinny Curry missed practice after he tweaked his ankle on Tuesday. . . . Linebacker Casey Matthews sat out the second straight day with back pain. . . . Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha took another "personal" day, according to the team. . . . Practices remain optional.

Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.


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