Dion Lewis makes a cut during a pass route Monday during practice. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)
FOXBORO — No one would blame Dion Lewis if he felt sorry for himself after his ACL tear last Nov. 8 against the Redskins at Gillette Stadium.
After all, this was a player who had a broken leg in the preseason of 2013 that kept him out of NFL regular season game action until last season.
That’s when the Patriots decided to make him a big part of their offense and a key weapon out of the backfield. The Patriots finally had their change-of-pace back who could run between the tackles, run to the edge and catch passes in the flat and in wheel routes.
Then his left knee gave out on a cut in the first half against Washington and his heart sank. At the time, no one not named Tom Brady accounted for more yards from scrimmage than Lewis. He caught 36 passes on 50 targets for 388 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two rushing touchdowns to go with 234 yards on 49 carries in his seven games.
“I knew it was bad. I never hurt my knee before. I knew it was bad,” said Lewis, who made his return to the practice field Monday during the final week of OTAs before training camp this summer. “I was upset. The pain wasn’t really that bad. It was just the fact that I wasn’t going to be out there and playing with my teammates. That’s what hurt the most.
“It was tough. I love the game. Being away, it meant a lot. It hurt a lot. I just wanted to work as hard as I can this offseason, rehab as hard as I can and hopefully, I’ll have a lot of fun in September.”
Lewis has always appreciated the game he loves. But now that appreciation has reached a new level.
“Just cherish football,” Lewis said Monday after OTA practice. “I love football. When I was away from it, it sucked, so I just told myself I was going to work as hard as possible to be back as fast as possible. I’m just still trying to get better and stronger every day.
“It makes me a stronger person for it, that’s for sure.”
There was Lewis Monday, making cuts, catching passes and joining his fellow running backs in drills with coach Ivan Fears egging him on.
“It feels good to do football stuff. It’s been a while. [I was] a little rusty. Just trying to be myself again. Just got to keep working.”
Lewis was not wearing a brace on the repaired left knee, just a black athletic sleeve, which he proudly displayed. What he also made clear is that he has no intent on changing the way he plays (or cuts) just because of the non-contact injury from last November.
“That’s the only way I know how to play. I’m going to play the same exact way I always play. That’s who I am,” Lewis said. “Hey, I just work hard. That’s all I can do.
“It’s different. Working hard coming off this is not necessarily [about] working real hard [physically]. You have to stay within the guidelines and do what you’re told. That was kind of the hard part for me, just not being able to do stuff I thought I could do or taking it slower than I think I should. The trainers did a great job. I’ve been here so long with these guys and I see them too much.”
“That’s part of my job as a professional, is to work hard. I really just wanted to be back so bad. When I come back, I want to be me, and that’s the only player I know how to be, is me. I think working hard will help me be me quicker. I think me being me will help the team win, and I’m all about the team. Whatever I do is the for the team. I love football. When I couldn’t be out there with my team after I got hurt, it hurt. I just used that as motivation.”