FOXBORO, Mass. — While the New England Patriots struggled mightily to stop the run against the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins, a player the acquired this past offseason was not in uniform.
Defensive tackle Danny Shelton has been a healthy scratch in each of the last two games for the Patriots, watching from afar as his team allowed 7.3 yards per carry against the Vikings and 9.0 against the Dolphins — marks that rank among the 10 worst in franchise history.
Speaking with reporters after Wednesday’s practice, Shelton said not being able to contribute has “definitely” been frustrating.
“The competitor in me is always going to feel that little frustration,” he said. “But at the same time, I believe in my guys. We’re a strong group, and I believe that we can get the job done. It’s just a minor step back. We’re going to continue to stay focused and focus on this week.”
Asked whether he’s been given a reason for his exclusion from the 46-man roster, Shelton replied: “Not that I heard of really.”
“Obviously, I want to be out there,” he said. “But when it’s my time, I’ll be ready.”
This prolonged stint on the inactive list has been a new experience for Shelton, who was traded from the Cleveland Browns to the Patriots in March. He’d played in all but two games since entering the NFL as the 12th overall draft pick in 2015, and both of those were due to injury.
Shelton has struggled in his first season in New England, though, resulting in a steady drop in playing time. He played just 10 defensive snaps in a Week 9 win over the Green Bay Packers and nine in a Week 11 victory over the New York Jets.
For the last two weeks, the Patriots have opted to roll with just two true run stuffers on the defensive line (Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown), with Adam Butler coming onto the field in sub packages.
“All I can do is just be prepared every week,” Shelton said. “Obviously, I’m going to show up and practice and make sure I can do my part. And when that time comes and my name is called, I’ll be ready.”
Shelton’s down season has come at an inopportune time for the 345-pound Washington product. He’s in a contract year after the Patriots declined to pick up his fifth-year option before the season. Shelton said he isn’t looking that far ahead, though.
“Honestly, for me personally, I’m just focused on this week and focused on this opportunity,” he said. “When I get the opportunity, I’ll be ready, and hopefully I can execute and dominate.”
Given the Patriots’ extreme inability to stop the run with Shelton out — they’ve given up an NFL-worst 8.4 yards per carry over the last two weeks — it wouldn’t be surprising to see big No. 71 back in the lineup Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Shelton knows that’s no sure thing, though.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep on competing and see what happens at the end of the week.”
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images