- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots were without special-teams captain Matthew Slater in Sunday's 23-3 victory over the Buccaneers. A big part of Slater's value is that he plays on each of the "Big 4" units -- kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return, punt coverage -- so when a player like that is injured it often means multiple players are tapped to fill the void.
Here is a look at how the Patriots compensated:
Duron Harmon on punt coverage. The third-round pick from Rutgers was the choice to serve as one of the team's gunners opposite Marquice Cole. Slater's work as a gunner, where he often faces double teams, is considered exemplary.
Brandon Bolden on kickoff return. Slater is usually back deep on the kickoff return, mostly as the fullback on the unit. Second-year running back Bolden, who played for the first time this season after missing the first two games while recovering from a knee injury, took over that role.
Michael Buchanan on kickoff coverage. In an unusual switch, defensive end Buchanan was the new player on the kickoff coverage unit in place of Slater. At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Buchanan has a different body type than the 6-foot, 210-pound Slater and fills a different role. Buchanan had played on the kickoff coverage unit in the season opener along with Slater, but was bumped off in Week 2 when Harmon dressed for the first time this season.
Jake Bequette on punt return. While not a 1-for-1 switch, and while acknowledging that the Patriots can have different units based on whether they are setting up a return or electing to rush more players, second-year player Bequette was a notable addition to the punt return team. Similar to Buchanan, he has a different body type than Slater and fills a different role. This was the first we've seen of Bequette in this role in 2013.
ANALYSIS: This is a good example of how Slater's absence led to four-pronged juggling by the coaching staff. Bill Belichick has spoken in the past about how his experience as a special-teams coach prepared him well for his role as a head coach in terms of managing the overall 53-man roster, and this is a perfect example to illustrate that point. It also highlights how Slater's skills are unique and no one player can fill the void. ... Players who were on all four units Sunday were LB Jamie Collins, LB Dane Fletcher, LB Chris White and S Tavon Wilson, which reflects their special-teams value and why, among other reasons, they are locks for the 46-man game-day roster on a weekly basis. ... Players on three units were CB Marquice Cole, S Nate Ebner and S Duron Harmon. ... The wedge players on the kickoff return were FB James Develin, TE Michael Hoomanawanui and TE Matthew Mulligan.