Belichick says he wouldn't be opposed to using Lewis in short-yardage


Belichick says he wouldn't be opposed to using Lewis in short-yardage

FOXBORO -- Dion Lewis has played 32 offensive snaps in three games for the Patriots this season. That's third among Patriots running backs, squarely behind Mike Gillislee (75) and James White (104), and ahead of Rex Burkhead (18) who was injured early in New England's Week 2 matchup with the Saints. 

When Lewis first arrived to the Patriots in 2015, his snap counts were decidedly different as he saw a combined 154 snaps through three games. He was healthy then. And despite coming off of an injury-shortened 2016, he appears to be healthy now. 

So what has changed?

Well, Bill Belichick's offensive personnel is decidedly different. James White has solidified himself as one of the team's most trusted offensive weapons. Mike Gillislee was signed as a restricted free agent in the offseason to be New England's big back. 

That leaves Lewis as the smaller of two jack-of-all-trades all-purpose threats. Burkhead, who is still dealing with a rib injury and has missed two days of practice this week, is the other. 

Lewis' torn ACL in 2015 and his subsequent patella fracture before the 2016 season could be significant pieces of the puzzle here as well. Lewis is clearly a dynamic offensive weapon when on the field, but perhaps the team would like to manage his workload in order to help keep him healthy for the stretch run. 

Lewis has helped the team as its kick returner, giving him an opportunity at a few extra touches per game, and Belichick said on Friday that he likes what he's seen from Lewis when he's been on the field. 

"I think Dion's been good," Belichick said. "Can make plays with the ball in his hands. Running game and the passing game. No problem with him in there. He's done a good job when he's gotten an opportunity."

Of his eight carries in 2017, Lewis has two of the more impressive short gains of the season. 

The first came in the third quarter against the Chiefs, when Lewis was hit a yard behind the line of scrimmage, wiggled away, bounced off three tackles and somehow fell forward for five yards. The other came in the third quarter against the Saints, when Lewis was hit a yard behind the line of scrimmage again, spun out of two tackles, dove underneath two more hits, and fell forward for a one-yard gain.

Neither of those plays featured opposing defenses stacking the line of scrimmage the way they would in a third-and-one or fourth-and-one situation, but maybe the Patriots will be willing to try him in those spots against the Panthers this weekend.

Belichick has been open about the fact that the Patriots have struggled in short-yardage, and he said on Friday that he'd be comfortable handing the ball to Lewis when those types of plays arise.

"Sure. I think he's good with the ball in his hands," Belichick said. "Good vision. Runs hard. Low center of gravity. He's a hard guy to tackle. I think you could hand him the ball in any situation. Inside, outside. He's a hard guy to tackle. And he has good vision and he can find space."

Patriots release Shea McClellin

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Patriots release Shea McClellin

Shea McClellin will be blocking kicks for somebody else next season. 

The Patriots announced Monday they've released the veteran linebacker, ending his tenure with the team after two seasons.  ESPN's Field Yates broke the news.

The Pats signed McClellin to a three-year deal prior to the 2016 season, but that was the only season in which he played for the team. McClellin missed all of last season due to injury. Prior to coming to New England, McClellin played four seasons with the Bears, who chose him 19th overall in 2012. 

McClellin's biggest contribution with the Pats came when he blocked a Justin Tucker kick in Week 14 of the 2016 season against the Ravens.

Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

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Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

When the Patriots traded for Danny Shelton earlier this offseason, sending a 2019 third-rounder to Cleveland in exchange for the defensive tackle, they traded for a player who was already being mentored by one of their own. 

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Shelton explained that one of his agents put him in touch with former Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork so that Shelton could pick up some tips from one of the best defensive tackles in football of the past 15 years. 

"For me, he’s someone that I still look up to even when he was with the Texans," Shelton said. "I got the opportunity to reach out to him and kind of pick his brain and just learn a couple of tips from him. He’s been really responsive. He’s been a guy that has been really helpful this offseason and I’m looking forward to reaching out more and learning some more from him."

When Shelton was coming out of the University of Washington in 2015,'s Lance Zierlein's "NFL comparison" was Wilfork. Both carried similar builds -- Shelton is now listed at 335 pounds -- and both were viewed as surprisingly good athletes for their body types. Shelton was also viewed as the top two-gapping tackle in the draft that year, which is exactly what the Patriots ask their interior linemen to do. 

Shelton has made good on those projections over the last couple of years. Last season, he was a key part of a Browns defense that ranked fourth against the run by Football Outsiders in terms of DVOA. In 2016, Shelton was ranked by Pro Football Focus as its eighth-best interior lineman against the run. Per PFF, he was second that year -- behind only Damon Harrison -- in terms of the number of run stops he recorded from the interior.

It's clear that Shelton, the No. 12 overall pick three years ago, understands what his strengths are. 

"Honestly, I’m just going to go with whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] wants me to do," Shelton said. "My best feature is stopping the run, so if he wants me to play at a specific position I’ll do it, and I’ll make sure I do my job for the team’s success."

So how can Wilfork help? If he has any tips on how to be a consistent player from the inside in Belichick's system, that could go a long way. Over the course of Wilfork's 13-year career, few defensive tackles were as effective from week to week and year to year. Wilfork played at least 830 snaps in four of his last five seasons with the Patriots (he was injured in 2013), and even during his two seasons with the Texans, he averaged about 600 snaps per year. He made five Pro Bowls with the Patriots and was named a First or Second-Team All-Pro four times.

In what form might Wilfork's advice on consistency be delivered? Would it be nutritional, which was an aspect of his preparation he embraced later in his career? Would it be technique-based? Would it be simply how to take the coaching dispensed inside the walls of Gillette Stadium? 

Shelton, who missed two games last season and played in 469 snaps, doesn't have a long-term contract with the Patriots to be able to prove his worth over multiple years the way Wilfork did. And he may not be asked to take on the myriad roles Wilfork was during his time under Belichick. But if Shelton can pick up some advice from Wilfork on how to stay on the field and how to help the Patriots win on first and second downs, that might make him the team's most valuable offseason addition. 

New England finished the season 20th in rush yards allowed per game, and they were 31st in yards per attempt allowed. In the Super Bowl, with run-stuffing defensive tackle Alan Branch a healthy scratch, the Patriots allowed 6.1 yards per carry to the Eagles on their way to 164 yards rushing. 

Shelton is in the final year of his rookie contract and scheduled to make $2.03 million this season. The Patriots may not be willing to pick up his hefty $11.7 million fifth-year option for 2019, but if he can continue his upward trajectory then maybe the Patriots will work to extend him before the end of the year. 

How Wilfork impacts that trajectory, if at all, remains to be seen. But he's certainly not a bad guy for Shelton to have in his corner as the 24-year-old embarks on life with the Patriots.