“Should I call you Ray or should I call you Coach Ventrone?” the New England Patriots' special-teams captain recounted Tuesday morning for a pool of media at Gillette Stadium, where on Monday voluntary offseason workouts began.
“It’s gonna be great. Coach Ventrone,” Slater continued, pausing as a ripple of laughter ran through the crowd, “is a very intelligent person, and he played this game at a high level for a long time and he really understands the game. So I’m really excited to work with him, to learn from. I think he’s going to bring a lot to the table.”
Ventrone, a 10-year special-teams journeyman who served in two separate stints in New England, retired from the NFL at the end of last season and was hired by the Patriots last month as an assistant special-teams coach. Ventrone and Slater’s careers overlapped one year in New England -- 2008, Slater’s rookie season -- and the latter is eager to get reacquainted.
During their time together with the Patriots, Slater often marveled at Ventrone’s work ethic and studiousness -- an approach that Slater, a four-time Pro Bowl special-teamer who’s held in high regard in the organization for his professionalism, has adopted himself.
“Ray was just a pro’s pro, the way he played the game and the way he prepared,” Slater said. “He had a better understanding of the game than most guys I’ve ever played with. The way he competed ... I just have so much respect for him as a competitor and the passion that he played with. He’s already bringing that to the meeting rooms. We’re excited about it. I’m not surprised that he’s doing what he’s doing now.”
Ventrone, along with Joe Judge, was hired to replace long-time special-teams coach Scott O’Brien, who in February retired after four decades in the NFL working with the discipline -- including his final six seasons with the Patriots, from 2009-14.
Slater, like others, will miss O’Brien's presence in the building.
“I know that the game comes to an end for all of us," Slater said. "I know Scott joked about it coming to the end over the years. I certainly didn’t want him to retire, because he definitely means a lot to me personally, and I know to a lot of guys around here, too. But he’s earned his retirement, he’s given a lot to this game, and I know he’s excited about the next chapter in his life.”
Some other quick hits from Slater’s media availability:
Hernandez in his prayers: Slater’s reaction to last week’s conviction of former teammate Aaron Hernandez for first-degree murder in the 2013 death of Odin Lloyd was one of sadness. “I’ll say this. That’s a tragic situation for so many different people, for so many different reasons," Slater said. "I just feel like we all should keep everybody involved and affected by that situation in our prayers and our thoughts. That’s really all that I’ll say about that. My heart is broken on so many different levels for that, and I just pray.” Asked if Hernandez is included in those prayers, Slater said, “Certainly.”
Gratitude for Solder: Reports came to light this week that Nate Solder was treated for testicular cancer last year, something Slater was aware of. “The faith in God that he has, and the way he carries himself, I can’t think of anyone who’s handled a situation like that better than he did," Slater said. "I don’t want to get into it too much, I’d rather let him speak about all that, but Nate Solder is a great man, and the way he handled that last year was admirable. He had so much courage. It’s something to behold.”