New England Patriots: Matthew Slater

Matthew Slater: 'A lot to be excited about'

April, 22, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater likes what he sees at this early stage of the 2014 league year, while at the same time acknowledging this is just the start of a long journey.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Slater
Mike Reiss/ESPNMatthew Slater talks to the media at Gillette Stadium.
“There’s a lot to be excited about,” Slater said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium after participating in the second day of the team’s voluntary offseason program, which as expected, had exemplary attendance including quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Darrelle Revis. “There are some extremely talented players that we’ve added to the roster, along with some extremely talented players that we’ve had here for a while.

“But all that’s on paper and it really doesn’t mean anything right now. We haven’t even had one practice together, so we have a long way to go.”

Slater represented the AFC in the Pro Bowl this year, and he talked Tuesday about spending time with Revis in Hawaii. Now they’re teammates in New England.

“Obviously when you get a player like that, you’re excited about the opportunity to play with him. You know what he brings to the table,” Slater said. “He’s really a good guy, does everything the right way, plays the game the right way, and you respect that about the guy, no matter who he plays for. If he plays the game hard, plays the game the right way, you respect it. And he’s definitely one of those guys.”

Slater, who adds depth to the receiving corps, looks forward to competing against Revis in practice.

“I’m sure that will be fun,” he said. “As competitors, no matter what it is you’re doing, I feel like all of us want to go against the best and we feel like he’s definitely one of the best. He’s proven that. I think it’s just going to make everyone better going against a guy like that, as well as the other guys we’ve added. There will be a lot of competition, as there is every year, and I think that breeds success.”

Leftover pieces of Patriots mail

March, 27, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A few leftover pieces of mail from the weekly New England Patriots mailbag:

Darryl Williams in Baltimore, Md., writes: Hey Mike, what would you predict the Patriots do about safety Adrian Wilson as far as a spot on the roster? I think Wilson would complement our secondary very well.

Reiss: Darryl, my feeling on Wilson has been that I'd be surprised if he's on the club. He looked to be on the roster bubble at the end of 2013 preseason (seemed a bit slow in preseason games) and if not for a season-ending injury, I had him on the outside looking in based on performance. That's why I haven't really factored him into the mix upon his return to health.

John M in Atlanta, Ga., writes: Maybe this isn't the most pressing question, but when will we know what number Darrelle Revis is going to wear? I'm sure he's hoping to pick up No. 24. (I ask because I bought a jersey shortly after he signed with the Pats, but I guess they can't start making them till they get the number situation sorted out.)

Reiss: John, this actually relates to our first question because Adrian Wilson currently owns the No. 24 and paid a "heavy" price to get it (a year's supply of Pampers diapers for cornerback/new dad Kyle Arrington). I think Revis will ultimately get 24, but the team still has Wilson on the roster, perhaps because he's still not 100 percent and a team can't cut an injured player.

Ramin in San Marcos, Texas, writes: Hey Mike, let's just say that we decide not to add another WR to what we already have and then all of them end up staying healthy through camp/preseason next year. Including Matthew Slater we would have to keep seven receivers on the roster unless we cut Kenbrell Thompkins or Josh Boyce. Now I really hope that does not happen so my question to you is, do you think Brandon LaFell is a lock to make the 2014 53-man roster with his $3 million dollar signing bonus, or could you see him being the odd man out (assuming we need the extra roster spot and everyone stays healthy)?

Reiss: Ramin, I'd put LaFell in the 99-percent category for being on the club. I'd be surprised if he wasn't when everything ultimately sorts itself out.

Toni Kemmerle in Brunswick, Maine, writes: After watching Jared Allen sign with the Bears, the Patriots do not seem to be in the running for the services of a high profile free agent defensive end who can rush the passer. Do you think they will try to fill this desperate need through the draft or by signing a number of affordable free agents and seeing what shakes out?

Reiss: Toni, at this point, I'd lean toward the draft as well as internal development with Michael Buchanan. I also think a second-year player like Jamie Collins can be a factor when given the opportunity to rush the passer. That is one of the things I've learned in an offseason study of different teams -- many of them talk about the idea/concept of trying to find the answers from within first. That could be in play here.

Bob K. in Cambridge, Mass., writes: How does the experimental PAT from the 20 during the preseason apply to 2-point conversions?

Reiss: Bob, if the team declares it's going for the 2-point conversion, the ball would be placed on the 2-yard line. If not, it goes to the 20 for the point-after attempt.

A day to highlight special teams market

February, 24, 2014
On a day the Oakland Raiders signed special teams ace Taiwan Jones to a three-year contract extension through the 2017 season, it highlights the market for valuable specialists.

It's a market in which Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater is one of the key figures.

Initial reports of Jones' deal indicate that he'll receive $4.355 million as part of the three-year extension. Because he had one year left on his rookie contract, it essentially amounts to a new four-year, $5 million contract.

That comes in below Slater, as it should, given Slater's standing as one of the NFL's premier special teamers. Slater's most recent contract, signed in the 2012 offseason when he was an unrestricted free agent, is a three-year, $5.4 million pact.

Slater is scheduled for free agency after the 2014 season and it already seemed to be on the mind of owner Robert Kraft when he spoke with reporters at the Super Bowl this year.

“We’re doing whatever we can to free up any money we can,” Kraft said. “[One reporter] has said we need some players on the offensive side. Other people say we need on the defensive side. We have a fellow like Matt Slater who is such an outstanding special-teams player, he’s a free agent coming up. So we have to balance a lot of things.”

Recapping Patriots in the Pro Bowl

January, 26, 2014
The Pro Bowl is in the books, and it was a relatively quiet one from a Patriots perspective.

The Patriots had three players participate -- left guard Logan Mankins, special teams captain Matthew Slater and kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Two others, quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Aqib Talib, were original selections who didn't participate.

Mankins and Slater were original selections and were part of "Team Sanders" as they donned gray uniforms in the new non-conferenced format. Gostkowski, who was a replacement for Broncos kicker Matt Prater, was part of "Team Rice" (white jerseys).

Our biggest takeaway from a Patriots perspective?

Mankins has shaved his beard, which had generated notable momentum by the playoffs. No word on if that was a game-time decision.

He showed up a few times getting out in front on screen plays, touching down a defender after a lost fumble by running back Alfred Morris in the second quarter, and giving up a sack to Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

With no kickoffs in the game, Gostkowski was called upon for point-after attempts and clanged a 53-yard field goal off the right upright in the fourth quarter. We only saw Slater on the punt return and punt coverage units.

The new Pro Bowl format led to a more competitive game, with "Team Rice" winning 22-21.

Players on the winning team earn $53,000, while those on the losing side get $26,000.

Quick-hit thoughts from first quarter

January, 19, 2014
DENVER -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots trail the Denver Broncos 3-0 in the AFC Championship Game. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Pats' O starts slow. The Patriots' offense needed just one play to find the end zone last Saturday, but the start wasn't quite the same today, as the offense went three and out on its first drive and punted on each of the first two drives. Some notable personnel factors: Aaron Dobson is playing some in two-receiver sets, LeGarrette Blount once again is handling lead back duties and both Matthew Slater and Austin Collie have been targeted on third-down plays.

2. Perfect conditions. The weather is idyllic in Denver today, with a temperature of 61 degrees at kickoff. There's hardly a cloud in the sky, and there's minimal wind. A strong glare has made things difficult on returners fielding punts deep.

3. Broncos open the scoring. The Broncos got on the board first with a field goal late in the first quarter. The drive was helped by a long completion from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas on a third and 10 play. The Patriots were able to hold the Broncos from the 10-yard line, however, forcing the field goal from Matt Prater.

4. Patriots' offense driving. The Patriots' offense generated a little bit of buzz at the end of the quarter, crossing into Denver territory. The second quarter will open with the Patriots facing a fourth down from Denver's 39.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (offensive pass interference).

Patriots lighten the load at end of week

January, 3, 2014
After practicing in cold and windy conditions on Wednesday, then in the snow on Thursday, the New England Patriots moved this morning's practice inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse and dialed back the pace with more of a mental-based, walkthrough-type session.

This reflects the theme of the week as the Patriots balanced two hard days of practice in which they mostly focused on themselves (instead of a specific opponent) with making sure they get some rest.

"I’m encouraged by what we’ve been able to do so far," special-teams captain Matthew Slater said on Thursday. "We got some good work in the elements, which I thought was good. You expect to play in something like that at some point this year. I think we’ve gotten [a chance] to go back to the basics and focus on the fundamentals ... and then as the weekend comes, hopefully we can take advantage of some time off and get off our feet and try to get our legs back underneath us."

Defensive end Rob Ninkovich said another good use of time this week has been revisiting the team's 13-6 loss to the Bengals on Oct. 6, as the Bengals are one of New England's three potential opponents in the second weekend of the playoffs (the Pats have a first-round bye). By doing so, players can "see the things that worked for them, and they’ll probably try against you [again]," he said.

The Patriots' next scheduled practice is Tuesday.

Recapping top Patriots storylines

January, 1, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Recapping highlights from the Patriots on Wednesday as they held their first of three playoff bye-week practices:

1. McCourty cleared for action: Safety Devin McCourty, who left the team's Dec. 22 win over the Ravens in the third quarter with a concussion, was back on the practice field for the first time. He also held court with reporters as he's been fully cleared for action. "I'm feeling all right, doing pretty good," McCourty said, later adding that he's never had to deal with concussion issues in the past. "I'm just happy to be back on the field." McCourty watched the injury on tape. "It was a weird hit," he said, before turning to one of Bill Belichick's favorite lines. "It is what it is."

2. Cold-weather practices shape mental toughness: Several players noted how Wednesday was one of the team's coldest practices of the season, with wind cutting fiercly through the lower practice field. Players also said they are preparing for possible snow later in the week, and the hope is that working in those elements might help the team in the playoffs. "We may get one of those [days]," quarterback Tom Brady said. "Mental and physical toughness is something that is really important this time of year. You get less-than-ideal conditions out there, and we play in an environment where it's not 70 degrees and no conditions like you may be in a dome, or you may be somewhere else in warm weather. With us, it's not the way it is, so you've got to try to play to your strength, and part of our strength is hopefully going out there and practicing every day, understanding the elements, the conditions we deal with -- wind, snow, rain. We're out there almost every day, so you just get used to playing in it, and hopefully by getting used to it, you develop the mental toughness to deal with it."

3. Closing the door on O'Brien talk: Coach Bill Belichick instructed players to steer clear of any discussion relating to former New England assistant Bill O'Brien (hired as Texans coach) and current offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (of interest to the Browns for their head coaching job). He did the same when asked about O'Brien. "I love Billy O'Brien, but right now really we're on the playoffs and our situation," he said. "I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on another coach or another team. I don't even know what team we're talking about here."

4. Patriots focus mostly on themselves: With members of the scouting staff working ahead on three possible opponents (Bengals, Colts, Chiefs), Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the team is focusing mostly on itself. "We'll try to get some work done on [opponents] preliminary until we know for sure who it is," Belichick said. "Really we're just trying to grind it out here and find ways to improve."

5. Belichick advocates change for P.A.T.: A significant part of Belichick's news conference was focused on the kicking game, with Belichick saying he'd like to see rules altered so more kickoffs are returned and point-after-attempts aren't converted at a 99 percent rate. "It's virtually automatic," he said. "That's just not the way the extra point was put into the game. It was an extra point that you actually had to execute and it was executed by players who were not specialists. They were position players."

6. Talib and Slater also draw a crowd: Cornerback Aqib Talib and special teams captain Matthew Slater were other players drawing larger media crowds. Slater has emerged as a go-to guy for reporters and also an inspirational leader among players.

Pro Bowl selections: New England Patriots

December, 27, 2013
Sharing some thoughts on the New England Patriots' Pro Bowl selections:

Who's in: Quarterback Tom Brady, left guard Logan Mankins, cornerback Aqib Talib, special-teamer Matthew Slater.

Key stats: This is Brady's ninth Pro Bowl berth, tying offensive lineman John Hannah for most in team history. ... For Mankins, this is his sixth Pro Bowl berth, and fifth in a row. ... This is Talib's first Pro Bowl. ... Slater gets his third straight nod.

Who cashed in: Talib. By earning a Pro Bowl nod, he reaches a $500,000 incentive in his contract. Slater gets an additional $300,000.

A case could be made for: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He's been excellent this season, but Denver's Matt Prater and Baltimore's Justin Tucker earned the two selections.

Others on the outside looking in: At safety, Devin McCourty could have made a strong case for a third spot alongside Earl Thomas (Seahawks) and Eric Weddle (Chargers), but it went to Jairus Byrd (Bills) -- probably more based on reputation. The NFL announced its selections as "unconferenced" this year, meaning that Patriots were competing against players from both the AFC and NFC. ... Defensive end is a tough position to crack, so while Chandler Jones has had an excellent season, it was going to be hard to break through. ... At punt returner, Julian Edelman is one of the best in the business but the spots went to Antonio Brown (Steelers) and Dexter McCluster (Chiefs).

Final thoughts: Brady, Talib and Slater were locks from this viewpoint. Slater is the new Larry Izzo. As long as he's healthy, he's going to keep ringing up Pro Bowl trips. Mankins, who has a well-earned reputation as one of the best in the game, was a tougher call because guards aren't always the first players your eyes are drawn to. But after some rocky moments this season (e.g. Oct. 27 vs. Miami), he's been playing at an elite level down the stretch.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Svitek, Talib & Slater draw media crowds

November, 29, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few picked-up pieces from the New England Patriots' locker room during the media-access period (1:15-2 p.m.):

Svitek's rise to top unit yields attention: Veteran offensive lineman Will Svitek, who signed a one-year free-agent contract with the Patriots in the offseason, will start at right tackle with Marcus Cannon (ankle) having already been ruled out. Svitek was one of the more popular players drawing media attention and he discussed what this season has been like for him under coach Dante Scarnecchia. "He focuses on technique so much, and details, and he works us hard," Svitek said. "He's a great coach, he really knows fundamentals and he knows the scheme. I've learned a lot. This is my ninth year and I feel like I'm a rookie again sometimes because I've learned so many different things."

Talib on mental approach: Cornerback Aqib Talib was one of the few players to draw a large media crowd. He answered a question on the mental challenge of keeping an edge against a two-win team. "It's football, man. Any given Sunday. You still have to line up, you still have to prepare. Just because they're 2-9 doesn't mean they're going to hand us the win.," he said. "We prepare all week for it and treat it like it's any other week." When it comes to possibly taking their foot off the accelerator, Talib cited a "great coaching staff" and added the coaches "don't let us do that."

Special teams units find motivation from 2012: Special teams captain Matthew Slater reflected on two 2012 games against the Texans, and said coaches have challenged them to be better than they were. "They really embarrassed us last year the way they performed against us," he said. "Almost everything could have been better," he said.

Projecting the Patriots' inactives

October, 19, 2013
Before the New England Patriots play a game, we'll attempt to predict the team's inactive players.

Our best guess on the list for Sunday's road game against the New York Jets:

Danny Amendola: Receiver sustained a concussion last Sunday, has been held out of practice all week, and is already ruled out by the team.

Chris Barker: Rookie offensive guard could be active if there are concerns with those above him on the depth chart, Dan Connolly (concussion) and Marcus Cannon (shoulder).

Tommy Kelly: Veteran defensive tackle has missed the last two weeks of practice with a right knee injury and has already been ruled out.

Matthew Slater: Special-teams captain has been at practice but still has a cast on his left wrist, which makes us think it might be too early to expect him back.

Aqib Talib: Cornerback missed practices Wednesday and Thursday with a left hip injury and didn't look fully comfortable in his return to practice Friday.

Leon Washington: Veteran running back missed the last two weeks of practice with an ankle injury and has already been ruled out.

Tavon Wilson: Reserve safety and core special-teams player has been limited with a hamstring injury and has missed the last two games.

Projecting the Patriots' inactives

October, 5, 2013
Before the New England Patriots play a game, we'll attempt to predict the team's inactive players.

Our best guess on the list for Sunday's road game against the Cincinnati Bengals:

Chris Barker: Developmental rookie guard was a healthy scratch last week now that veteran Will Svitek, who had been battling a knee injury, is healthy enough to dress.

Steve Beauharnais: Rookie linebacker has been a healthy scratch the last three games.

Jake Bequette: Second-year defensive end was inactive last week as rookie Michael Buchanan is ahead of him on the depth chart.

Aaron Dobson: Rookie receiver took a big hit in Sunday night's game against the Falcons, injuring his neck. He's been limited in practice, and we wonder if the Patriots would have signed Austin Collie if they felt Dobson was ready to go.

Rob Gronkowski: Tight end has been making positive strides, but if this is mostly about his comfort level, perhaps they'll wait another week so he can have his first game at home.

Stevan Ridley: Running back has already been ruled out with a knee injury, meaning LeGarrette Blount almost certainly steps into the No. 1 role.

Matthew Slater: Special-teams captain returned to practice Friday for the first time since injuring his left wrist, and was sporting a black cast. He is officially doubtful.

Extra point: The Patriots have two open roster spots, which are likely to be filled with practice squad promotions. Our best guess: DT Marcus Forston and S Kanorris Davis.

Welcome to the Georgia Dome

September, 29, 2013
Georgia Dome Mike Reiss/ESPNThe Falcons' indoor stadium, with a seating capacity of 71,250, is one of the loudest venues in the NFL.
ATLANTA -- Welcome to the Georgia Dome, where the New England Patriots visit the Atlanta Falcons (8:30 p.m. ET):

Indoor football. Weather conditions aren’t a factor as this marks the Patriots’ first regular-season game inside a pure dome since Thanksgiving of 2010 (vs. Lions, on Thanksgiving). The Georgia Dome has a permanent seating capacity of 71,250 and is one of the loudest venues in the NFL. Since 2008, the Falcons are 34-7 at home, which is the best record in the NFC.

A feel for inside the dome. Plans to build the Georgia Dome, for $210 million, were first introduced in 1989. The Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992, has hosted two Super Bowls (XXVIII, XXXIV), gymnastics and basketball events for the 1996 Olympic Games, and most recently the NCAA Men’s Final Four for the third time. For football, the mostly red seats and Falcon at midfield give the dome a unique look. Banners hang above from the team’s six division championships, as well as some of former Falcon greats, including Deion Sanders, Jessie Tuggle and Steve Bartkowski.

Four more inactive Patriots players: The Patriots have already ruled tight end Rob Gronkowski and receivers Danny Amendola and Matthew Slater out for the game. That means four more players must be declared inactive, with those decisions turned in to the NFL 90 minutes before kickoff.

Extra points: The Falcons have outscored opponents 31-0 in the first quarter this season. … Under head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons are 22-3 after a loss. … This marks the Patriots’ second of five scheduled nationally televised games this season. … The 34 total points allowed by the Patriots are the fewest for the team through three games since 1979.

Coleman gets the call: Veteran referee Walt Coleman has been assigned tonight’s game. Patriots fans remember Coleman from the “Tuck Rule” game.

Television broadcast: Tonight’s game will be on NBC, with Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya on the call.

Projecting the Patriots' inactives

September, 28, 2013
Before the New England Patriots play a game, we'll attempt to predict the team's inactive players.

Our best guess on the list for Sunday night's road game against the Atlanta Falcons:

Danny Amendola: Receiver is listed as questionable on the injury report (groin) and looked better on the practice field this week, but the hunch here is that he might need some more time.

Steve Beauharnais: Rookie linebacker has been a healthy scratch the last two games.

Rob Gronkowski: Tight end has been making positive strides, but the educated guess here is that he'd like an increased level of comfort before taking the field.

Chris Jones: Rookie defensive tackle is a developmental prospect who has yet to dress for a game since being claimed on waivers from the Buccaneers.

Matthew Slater: Special-teams captain has already been declared out with a wrist injury.

Sebastian Vollmer: Starting right tackle missed practices Wednesday and Thursday with a foot injury, and while he returned for Friday's light practice, the feeling here is that he's more likely to play Oct. 6 in Cincinnati.

Leon Washington: Veteran running back was inactive last week with a thigh injury and remained limited in practice all week.

Vollmer, Slater out again

September, 26, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the second consecutive day, starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and special-teams captain Matthew Slater were the lone Patriots not spotted at practice.

On Wednesday's injury report, it was revealed that Vollmer is dealing with a foot issue that cost him half of the offensive snaps during a Week 3 win against Tampa Bay. Slater, meanwhile, remains out due to a wrist injury.

As has been the case, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola were on the practice field again for a shells-and-helmets workout, as each is hopeful to return soon from their respective injuries. On Wednesdsay, Amendola stated that he was getting closer to 100 percent after a groin issue that has sidelined him each of the past two games.

Gronkowski (back/forearm) looks to be closing in on a return to action for the first time since a divisional-round win in last season's playoffs. He stressed on Wednesday that he continues to improve day-to-day.

The Patriots will conduct their final practice on Friday in advance of their trip to Atlanta for a Sunday night game.

How Patriots filled Matthew Slater void

September, 23, 2013
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.