In November, Dion Lewis took a break from rehabilitating his surgically repaired leg and stopped in the locker room to chat with reporters. Full of confidence and optimism, Lewis revealed his belief that the Browns might give him a chance to compete for their featured running back role heading into the 2014 season.
But since then, the Browns have overhauled their front office and coaching staff. Former CEO Joe Banner, who was the president of the Philadelphia Eagles when they drafted Lewis in the fifth round in 2011, is long gone. The same goes for former wide receivers coach Scott Turner, the son of ex-Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner and an assistant at the University of Pittsburgh when Lewis played there.
In March, new Browns General Manager Ray Farmer signed former Houston Texans running back and projected starter Ben Tate to a two-year, $6.2 million contract as an unrestricted free agent. In May, Farmer traded up to draft running back Terrance West in the third round (No. 94 overall). He also signed highly touted running back Isaiah Crowell as an undrafted free agent.
So where do the changes leave Lewis, who suffered a season-ending fractured fibula and ligament damage in his left leg Aug. 15 during an exhibition game?
“I don’t know,” Lewis said last month as mandatory minicamp wrapped up. “I’m still very excited to get back there and prove that I’m 100 percent recovered from the injury. With new coaches, everybody is learning a new system. So I feel like I’ve learned the system well, and I’m looking forward to getting out there and competing with the rest of the guys.”
The answer is telling. Lewis, 23, went from thinking he could possibly climb atop the depth chart to acknowledging the uncertainty of his situation.
The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Lewis has the traits of a proto­typical change-of-pace back in the elder Turner’s system.
As a result, he drew comparisons to Darren Sproles with a strong training camp last year before his injury.
However, some doubt that Lewis fits well as a runner in the zone-blocking scheme used heavily by new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Lewis begs to differ, and he plans to prove his point.
He sat out some of the Browns’ organized team activities in the spring and their mandatory minicamp in June with an undisclosed injury he insisted was unrelated to the broken leg that derailed his 2013 season. He expects to be ready for the first full-squad practice of training camp July 26, when he’ll get a shot to show the new coaching staff what he can do.