FOXBORO — Bill Belichick likes to remind everyone that football is a game of three phases – offense, defense and special teams.
And in Matthew Slater, the Patriots coach believe he has one of the best in special teams.
Belichick was asked Wednesday just how Slater valuable is to the unit, a unit he has captained for the past two seasons.
“Matt is one of the best in the league,” Belichick beamed Wednesday. “I think he has a lot of the qualities that we were talking about. Sure, any time they have to double somebody, that makes it one less guy they can use somewhere else in the return. He almost always draws two guys out there unless they’re in an eight-man rush.
“Most of the time there’s two guys out there – fourth-and-short, where they’re trying to protect the box – but he draws a lot of double teams and deservedly so. He does an outstanding job of covering punts and as I said, it’s a tough position to play but he’s got all the qualities that we talked about to be good. He does a good job for us.”
Belichick outlined what he sees as some of the traits he looks for in a gunner like Slater.
“Well, some combination of speed, strength and quickness,” Belichick said. “The more the better of all three, but that’s a tough position to play. You have to deal with two guys. You have to be strong enough to deal with them or quick enough to deal with them or fast enough to deal with them and then there’s all the techniques of not only dealing with the double team but also the punts, the returns, the rushes, the wind conditions, knowing where the ball is, trying to defeat two blockers and then locate the ball and the returner and the different returns and so forth. There’s a lot of technique and skill that’s involved beyond just the physical part of it. I think you need some combination of those three elements to deal with consistent double teams out there.”
And the mentality?
“Be aggressive,” Belichick said without hesitating. “It’s a tough spot to play. As I said, if you’re good, you have two guys out there a lot. Two guys get you at the line of scrimmage and are trying to keep you from getting downfield – it gets pretty physical. It’s a physical battle out there. You definitely have to have a high level of aggressiveness to deal with that.
“Statistically there are definitely fewer kickoff returns on a percentage basis and total numbers than what there were before they moved the kickoff restraining line back to the 35-yard line, which was what they said was their attempt to have fewer returns, which there definitely are but there are still plenty of them. I think as the season goes on, particularly in places like this, where the weather is cooler and wind conditions become more of a factor, that there are fewer touchbacks in the second half of the season than there are in the first half of the season. It becomes more of a factor later on in the season, but there are fewer of them, no question about that, absolutely.”