Ex-Ea­gles re­jects shine for Pa­tri­ots

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

BLOOM­ING­TON, Minn. — One thing sticks out to Pa­tri­ots run­ning back Dion Lewis about his time with the Philadel­phia Ea­gles.

“Not play­ing,” Lewis said Tues­day with a smirk.

Lewis is one of three Pa­tri­ots starters who will be fac­ing their for­mer team in Sun­day’s Su­per Bowl, along with re­ceiver Danny Amen­dola and safety Pa­trick Chung.

All three play­ers look back on their ex­pe­ri­ences in Philadel­phia dif­fer­ently, but they have played their best foot­ball since be­ing re­jected by the Ea­gles early in their ca­reers.

Lewis was drafted by Philadel­phia in the fifth round in 2011 and played two sea­sons for them be­fore he was traded to Cleve­land. Amen­dola was among Philadel­phia’s fi­nal cuts in train­ing camp in 2009. Chung started his ca­reer in New Eng­land, spent a for­get­table year with the Ea­gles in 2013, then re­turned to the Pa­tri­ots in 2014.

Amen­dola has ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple doubt­ing his abil­i­ties since he en­tered the league as an un­drafted free agent with Dal­las in 2008. He signed with Philadel­phia in 2009 af­ter be­ing cut by the Cow­boys. But af­ter eight months with the Ea­gles, he was re­leased. He was signed by the St. Louis Rams and stayed there for four sea­sons be­fore sign­ing a five-year con­tract with the Pa­tri­ots in 2013.

This past Christ­mas he tweeted a pic­ture of his framed No. 11 Ea­gles jer­sey, a gift from a friend.

“It’s in my pool room — hang­ing as daily mo­ti­va­tion,” Amen­dola said. “I’ve come a long way since get­ting the op­por­tu­nity to play there. It ob­vi­ously didn’t work out, so I guess I take it as a

learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and just re­al­ize how far I’ve come.”

Chung thought he was head­ing for a fresh start when he signed a three-year con­tract with Philadel­phia in 2013, but it didn’t work out un­der then first-year coach Chip Kelly. Chung was back in New Eng­land the next sea­son. The de­ci­sion paid off with a Su­per Bowl ring last sea­son.

As for that 2013 sea­son, Chung was coy about what he re­mem­bers about the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“That’ll be be­tween me and those peo­ple,” Chung said.

Lewis said de­spite his suc­cess in New Eng­land win­ning a ring last sea­son and lead­ing the team this sea­son in rush­ing yards (896) and rush­ing touch­downs (six), he has learned to stay mo­ti­vated.

“Never safe. You still gotta put the work in. You still gotta get an op­por­tu­nity. That’s what most of the guys in the league need — just an op­por­tu­nity to com­pete,” Lewis said.

He said he’s ma­tured a lot since leav­ing Philly.

“Peo­ple look at you and kind of char­ac­ter­ize you,” Lewis said. “They try to tell you what they think you can do without even re­ally know­ing you. That’s kind of what I went through. I just kind of keep battling and show­ing peo­ple what I can do.”

As much as Lewis, Amen­dola and Chung have en­joyed their time in New Eng­land, they aren’t naive to how the Pa­tri­ots deal with ag­ing play­ers. This past off­sea­son the Pa­tri­ots parted with Le­Gar­rette Blount, who led the NFL with 18 reg­u­lar-sea­son rush­ing touch­downs in 2016. But he also had turned 30, long con­sid­ered the age of de­cline for run­ning backs.

Blount was vo­cal about his de­sire to stay in New Eng­land, but the Pa­tri­ots signed Mike Gil­lislee. Blount took a one-year deal with the Ea­gles, where he has had a good sea­son and been a leader.

Amen­dola re­struc­tured his con­tract to re­main with New Eng­land this sea­son. With Ju­lian Edel­man out for the sea­son with a knee in­jury, Amen­dola has stepped up, lead­ing the team with 196 yards re­ceiv­ing and two touch­downs in the play­offs.

At 32, he will also en­ter free agency this sum­mer.

Lewis is in the sec­ond year of a two-year deal and be­comes an un­re­stricted free agent in the off­sea­son. Chung, who turns 31 this sum­mer, is signed through 2018.

Chung said he’s al­ways ad­mired Belichick’s no-non­sense ap­proach to foot­ball. When re­ports came out about Belichick pos­si­bly con­sid­er­ing re­tire­ment, Chung joked that his fu­ture was linked to that of his coach.

“When he’s done, I’ll be done, too,” Chung said.

Lewis said he will have no re­grets if this is in his fi­nal sea­son in New Eng­land.

“Just be­ing here and learn­ing what it takes to be a cham­pion,” Lewis said. “I think that’s some­thing I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber, re­gard­less of what hap­pens. I’ll just cher­ish my mo­ments here.”

The Pa­tri­ots gave him — and Amen­dola and Chung — what they’ve al­ways wanted: an op­por­tu­nity.

“No­body’s re­ally given me a chance, and these guys gave me a chance. So that def­i­nitely means a lot to me,” Lewis said. “So I’ll al­ways just re­mem­ber what I’ve learned here. And hope­fully I’ll still be here.”

Amen­dola

Chung

Lewis

AP file photo

Run­ning back Dion Lewis (33) led the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots in rush­ing yards and touch­downs this sea­son, but he has learned to stay mo­ti­vated. “Never safe. You still gotta get an op­por­tu­nity. That’s what most of the guys in the league need — just an op­por­tu­nity to com­pete,” Lewis said.

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