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Cadet, Lewis look to hit the gaps in Patriots backfield

Patriots backfield has running room

Tom Brady hands off to running back Travaris Cadet during Wednesday’s evening practice. Barry Chin/Globe staff

FOXBOROUGH — Travaris Cadet knows there are job opportunities in the Patriots backfield. Dion Lewis knows, too.

Both are among a handful of running backs eager for work as they look to fill the vacancies left by the departures of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, both of whom are now plying their trade in New York (Vereen with the Giants and Ridley with the Jets).

Other candidates hoping to join an established stable of LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, and Jonas Gray include second-year players James White and Tyler Gaffney.

White is enjoying his second strong camp, while Gaffney, who missed all of his rookie season after tearing his left lateral meniscus in camp with the Panthers, was not spotted Tuesday or Wednesday after he absorbed a big hit in Saturday’s practice.


Cadet and Lewis, both entering their fourth seasons, are versatile players who flash speed and shiftiness from the backfield, lined up wide, or on special teams.

This may be their first season with the Patriots, but they already have latched onto a buzzword that all attendees of Camp Belichick learn quickly: work.

“Just got to come out here and work hard every day,’’ said Lewis, who is listed at 5 feet 8 inches, 190 pounds but appeared much smaller as he left the practice field surrounded by some of his behemoth teammates.

“Got to work hard every practice. Got to work hard every play,’’ said Lewis, a fifth-round pick of the Eagles in 2011 who has just 36 career carries and 3 career receptions but owns a 21.9-yard average on 32 kickoff returns.

Lewis was noticeably absent from Wednesday’s night session after what appeared to be a healthy practice Tuesday. The Patriots had no update and announced no transactions.

Lewis was traded to the Browns after two seasons in Philadelphia but never played a down in Cleveland, getting cut last August. He spent a week with the Colts before the Patriots signed him in December.


So far he has enjoyed his time in Fort Foxborough, but like any fledgling Patriot, he’s a man of few words.

“Just trying to get better every day all the time,’’ said Lewis. “Just putting in the work.’’

The 6-1, 210-pound Cadet is coming off the most productive of his three seasons with the Saints, who signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Appalachian State.

A player in the mold of Vereen (though he did play quarterback back in college, a la Julian Edelman), Cadet has done his best work in space, collecting 45 career receptions for 345 yards, including 38 catches for 296 yards in 2014.

He has strong, soft, reliable hands, making him an ideal option for Tom Brady, who runs an offense that thrives on quick decisions and quick hitters.

Cadet has been both impressive and impressed during his short time in New England.

“This is a very competitive camp from the previous ones I’ve been in,’’ said Cadet, who like Lewis has some solid special teams skills, averaging 25.9 yards on 50 kickoff returns. “Everyone out here is working hard. That’s what you have to do and that’s what we’re here to do: work hard.’’

After a pause, Cadet repeated himself for emphasis: “We’re here to work hard.’’

Though ball carriers don’t have to worry about getting tackled during most drills, Lewis and Cadet said they practice with the same game mentality when the ball is in their hands as they look to find openings and explode through creases.


“It’s still high tempo,” said Cadet. “You have to go high tempo because [the defenders] are going high tempo.’’

Asked if they run more relaxed during a non-tackling drill, both players said no way.

“It’s still football, man,’’ said Lewis. “You always have to protect yourself.’’

Cadet said contact — sometimes hard contact — is inevitable on the field, even during drills when simply grabbing the guy with the ball is enough to cause a stoppage in play.

“You still get bumps and aches,’’ he said. “But you can’t get mad at a guy for hitting you just because he’s going at a higher tempo than you. If he’s going at a higher tempo, then maybe you need to go a higher tempo.

“I could never get mad at a guy for playing hard,’’ added Cadet. “If you don’t like destruction, if you don’t like blood, sweat, and tears, then you probably shouldn’t be playing football.’’

Jim McBride can be reached at