Patriots ramp up evaluations with another day of scrimmage


Patriots ramp up evaluations with another day of scrimmage

FOXBORO – The Patriots turned their Sunday practice into an intrasquad. It was the second straight practice spent scrimmaging and it’s the first time I can recall them having done that.

The benefits of that as opposed to drilling, drilling, drilling? Obviously, it gets players into more game-situations and able to react on the fly. And it may be an indicator of either the team employing new training methods, the players being a bit ahead of the curve in instillation or – perhaps – a little of both.

Bill Belichick said seeing the flow of the game and how things are fitting together is good for everyone.

“The big part of football is being able to change,” he began. “The situation changes every play. It goes from first-down, to second-down, to third-down, the ball moves, you go from offense to defense, to special teams. You don’t go out there and punt six punts in a row like you do in practice. You punt it once and then maybe the next thing you do is a kickoff return, so I don’t know. It’s doing things like that. It’s getting players to understand the situation and then apply the call and the technique for that given situation.”

The technique portion of the program comes in the one-ones and the half-speed drills during when schemes are installed. These scrimmages show whether players are able to bring what they learned into game situations.

“You want to carry those techniques into the game situation,” he explained. “A lot of times that doesn’t happen because players don’t remember to use the techniques that they’ve worked on. They don’t know when to apply it or they forget to apply it and they kind of lose track of it and that type of thing. This is football. It’s as close as we can get to it. The drill work is good. The repetition is good. That’s how you build your fundamentals. That’s how you build your execution, but at some point you’ve got to play like we’re playing and that’s good, too.”

The sidelines also benefit.

“It’s good for the coaches; handling all the substitutions, making adjustments on the sideline, seeing the game on the down and distance basis, seeing it live as opposed to making corrections on film,” Belichick added. “Not that we don’t coach on the field, but when you don’t know when it’s coming, when the down and distance changes, we need work on that, too, so it’s good for all of us. During the offseason and minicamps, Belichick often reiterates that it’s not evaluation time. It’s learning time. Even if the first few days of camp are a bit of a bridge to that learning period, by now – nine practices in – evaluations are being made.

“Most of the installation we’ve put in we’ve already covered in the spring. It’s not new installation (right now),” he said. “The execution of it in pads is obviously new, but we’re getting into the numbers on that now. We’re playing against an opponent on two practices and then we have a game Thursday night. It’s time to start evaluating. We can’t keep pushing it back. At some point we’ve got to make some decisions and see where things are. I think we’ve given everybody a pretty good chance to learn what to do, to have an opportunity to rep it. Now we’re getting into some competitive situations with us, but then against these other teams there will be not just the game but other practice opportunities as well to evaluate. Those will all be valuable. We’ll just see how it goes.”

In other words, if players don’t have it down by now, the clock is ticking on them. And this week is big for them.

Tom E. Curran can be followed on Twitter: @tomecurran

Patriots release Shea McClellin

File Photo

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

AP Photo

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.