FOXBORO, Mass. — Danny Shelton was expected to compete for a roster spot when he returned to the New England Patriots on a one-year deal with little in the way of guarantees. Now he’s looking like a favorite to start as the Patriots switch up their defense.

Heading into training camp, new addition Mike Pennel was the prospective starting nose tackle as the Patriots return to their roots with a three-man front. But with two weeks left to go until the regular season begins, Pennel continues to run behind Shelton in the Patriots’ starting defense.

Based on contracts, this is a surprise. Shelton signed a one-year deal in May worth $1.03 million with $75,000 guaranteed. The Patriots locked down Pennel on the first day of free agency in March on a two-year deal worth $2.5 million with $500,000 guaranteed.

Shelton initially came to the Patriots last season in a trade with the Cleveland Browns and played 13 games with one start and three healthy scratches during the regular season. He was active for two playoff games, including Super Bowl LIII, but was a healthy scratch in the AFC Championship Game, playing behind Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. Brown left in free agency, and Shelton is finally emerging.

He said he feels like he can be himself again.

“That’s something that just knowing when they brought me back, the type of defense they were aiming for, that’s something that excited me,” Shelton said. “It gives me more of a feel of how I used to play.”

Shelton agreed that he’s able to “attack” more this season.

It’s working well through two preseason games. Shelton was dominant in the Patriots’ first exhibition game against the Detroit Lions, registering a sack and a run stuff and forcing a holding penalty in eight snaps. He had a hurry and helped stop running back Dion Lewis for no gain in the Patriots’ second preseason game against the Detroit Lions.

“Just getting some film out there,” Shelton said. “Really feel like I have more to do. I always feel like every week I have something to work on. I’m going to keep that mindset and keep improving every week.”

Shelton is 6-foot-2, 345 pounds, but he’s not your prototypical run-stuffer. He was selected 12th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft after he registered nine sacks as a senior at the University of Washington. He hasn’t really been able to showcase his disruption skills since coming to the NFL. Maybe a tweak in the Patriots’ defense will allow him to do that this season.

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images