ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Friday night that the Patriots and former Panthers defensive lineman Damione Lewis have reached a contract agreement. Over the weekend, I went back and watched the Patriots’ game against the Panthers last season, specifically to study Lewis.
Here were some observations:
Moves well for a player his size. At 6-foot-2, 301 pounds, Lewis was often seen chasing plays to the sideline, which is a bit unusual for a defensive tackle his size. There was one play where he dropped off the line of scrimmage into pass coverage. He is light on his feet.
Hustle player. Effort won’t be a question with him based on this game. He finished with eight tackles, although most of them were down the field. In one sense, that reflects a player who was sometimes knocked back at the line. In another sense, it reflects a player who wasn’t giving up on the play because he was often chasing the ball-carrier down. He also mixed it up with left guard Logan Mankins after one play.
Completely different scheme. For those wondering if Lewis could fit at right defensive end in the Patriots’ 3-4 alignment, there was nothing in the performance that would provide any indication of that. Lewis played defensive tackle in the 4-3, primarily shaded over the guard or center in a penetrating type of role. He made a few new nice plays against the run in the second half, but other times – such as Kevin Faulk’s second-quarter touchdown run -- was easily blocked.
Pass rusher. Lewis’s primary responsibilities were to rush the passer from an interior position. He has quick hands and shows some suddenness in the role, such as the first play of the game when he shook free and pressured Tom Brady on an incomplete pass in which he was penalized for hitting Brady’s facemask.
FINAL ANALYSIS: One aspect that makes this agreement with Lewis intriguing is that he isn’t the traditional fit for the Patriots. He’s a one-gap player coming to a defense that has been a two-gap style of late. But one of the things that I think Bill Belichick and his staff generally do an excellent job of is identifying a player’s strengths and weaknesses, and then putting the player in a position to succeed. Lewis still has something to offer, and assuming he makes the team, my sense is that his primary value will come as an interior rusher in obvious passing situations. The Patriots’ pass rush was inconsistent in 2009. Lewis is another possibility to help the team in that area.