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Bill Belichick: Matthew Slater is ‘one of the best in the league’ on special teams

08.14.13 at 11:29 pm ET
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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.”

Here is the remainder of Belichick’s presser from Wednesday:

BB: We had a good day with the Bucs yesterday; looking forward to getting back out there again today. We’€™ll keep working on some situational things as well as a lot of normal things ‘€“ one-on-ones, things like that that give you an opportunity to really see some matchups but the team work and the situational stuff was really good. We’€™ll get another dose of it today.

Q: What was it about Coach Schiano that impressed you the first time you met?

BB: I’€™ve always had a lot of respect for Greg. I think he did a great job when he was at Chicago, when he was at Miami and during his whole career at Rutgers. He brought that program up and made it one of the top programs in the country. They do a great job with student-athletes there; they have a long record of success with those guys. He took a program that wasn’€™t used to being at that level to national prominence on a consistent basis.

Q: Has your relationship with him gone beyond the football field?

BB: Yeah, sure, we’€™ve socialized before.

Q: Can you expand on that?

BB: Any of my personal conversations with anybody, I think, are between myself and that person. I don’€™t think it’€™s a public event, with all due respect.

Q: What areas has Tim Tebow improved on since he’€™s been here?

BB: I think the big thing is just his familiarity with the offense, the way we do things: the play calling, the reads, formationing, just general things we do. The quarterback has to have a good understanding of all that. The more you do it, the more you get comfortable with it and the better you can execute it. I think that’€™s no different really than any other young quarterback or quarterback coming into a new system.

Q: It seems like there’€™s still a large rotation of receivers and tight ends playing with the first team right now ‘€“

BB: There’€™s no first team. We just, we work a lot of people together in different combinations. There’€™s no first team, at least none that I’€™m aware of.

Q: Is it important to narrow that down before Week 1?

BB: Not necessarily. We’€™re going to play somebody but I don’€™t know: it might be a rotation of people; it might just be the same people out there. I don’€™t know. We’€™ll see how it goes.

Q: You’€™ve been in several facilities for joint practices in the past few years, specifically Atlanta, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. Does seeing those facilities lead you to evaluate your own facilities?

BB: We’€™ve done some of that. I think it’€™s interesting to go see another team, not just their facility but their utilization of it and vice versa. When teams come here, they look at ours and we reciprocate that. There’€™s interesting information that comes out of it. You see how other people are doing things. A lot of times, you see what they’€™re doing but you’€™re just doing it a different way for whatever reason that is. Sometimes you see something that you think is a good idea and you implement it, or vice versa, they ask you about something that you’€™re doing and you share that with them. All three of those have been good and the teams that we’€™ve had here, including New Orleans, they give us feedback too: ‘€˜What you’€™re doing, we like this,’€™ or ‘€˜We wish we had that,’€™ or ‘€˜Instead of this, we do something else,’€™ that type of thing so it’€™s good, it’€™s real good.

Q: Obviously your footprint is your footprint but is there one example that you’€™ve taken from seeing the other facilities and brought here?

BB: Just a few little things, yeah. Like you said, the basic footprint is what it is. Our facilities are good. There are some limitations that we have and that’€™s true most of the other places that you see too, in one way or another.

Q: Have these joint practices worked out well enough these past two years that you want to keep them on your preseason schedule?

BB: The schedule isn’€™t up to us, the league makes the schedule.

Q: Even the preseason?

BB: Yeah, sure. We don’€™t like, call up this team and say, ‘€˜We’€™re going to schedule you.’€™ No, they release the schedule. They schedule the games.

Q: In general terms, how does having a consistent pass rush help the other units of the defense?

BB: I don’€™t know. It definitely helps. It helps the coverage; if you can get off the field and limit the points, there are all kinds of good things. I couldn’€™t put a percentage on it. I don’€™t know.

Q: Getting a consistent four-man rush, that allows you to have better coverage.

BB: You get a good pass rush however you get it. I think there are very few teams that just rush four guys on every play. I don’€™t see very much of that from hardly anybody. You see different combinations of rushers ‘€“ it might be four but it might not be the same four guys or five or six or it looks like four but it’€™s five, it looks like four but it’€™s three. There are different combinations of things you can do that can make the protection account for some people and sometimes they don’€™t come but they still have to account for them. That’€™s kind of a two-for-one where you can force a guy to block you but you can also be in coverage. There are a lot different ways to do it.

Q: In regard to sharing information with your counterparts ‘€“ has it always been the case in your experience in the NFL that it’€™s an open book or were people more guarded a few decades ago?

BB: I don’€™t think there’€™s ever been just an open book, I definitely wouldn’€™t put it that way. I think some teams you have better relationships and you work with better than others. It’€™s certainly a lot easier for an AFC team to work with an NFC team than to work with a team in your conference or in your division. I’€™m not saying it’€™s impossible but I think it’€™s a little harder to do.

Q: You’€™ve coached Sebastian Vollmer for four years. Is there anything that makes it tougher for a European player to play in this league?

BB: I think it probably depends a little bit on the player’€™s background. Sebastian played at the University of Houston, which is a Division I program and then came here and started his rookie year. He transitioned very quickly. Some players transition faster or slower than others. Sebastian is a real smart guy. He’€™s not only intelligent but he understands football concepts. When you explain something to him from a football standpoint it registers with him quickly. He’€™s a very flexible person so if you ask him to change something, he can change it and still be comfortable doing it as opposed to just having a bad habit and not being able to break it. He’€™s been a very good person to coach. I don’€™t want to say an easy person, but easy in terms of, he understands information, he can adapt quickly and he had a good background when he came here. He still had a lot of things that he had to work on, like all rookies do, like all kids from college do, but he had a pretty good background at Houston. He transitioned very quickly here to playing at a high level, playing in the starting lineup and playing against a lot of good players his rookie year and blocking them. He’€™s been a great teammate; very popular with the other members of the team, because of his work ethic, because of his commitment and he has a good personality as well.

Q: You’€™ve used a lot of different combinations in the secondary. How has that played out in terms of communication?

BB: I think it helps us because there’€™s less just being able to work with one or two guys, it’€™s more of stressing the communication. We do things like have noise out there and have different situations that make it harder to communicate so that when it’€™s hard in a game, we can do it. We do that with really all the positions. We have plenty of rotation all the way across the board. That’€™s part of it, is to encourage and really force players to communicate with each other at their position and also to transit through the positions ‘€“ linebacker to defensive line or secondary to linebacker or offensive line to tight end or whatever it happens to be so that we can execute the overall pay the way we need to. That’€™s a key thing. It’€™s not just the same two or three guys doing it all the time although some guys do it more than others. But it’€™s being able to roll everybody through and everybody being able to speak the language and know what the team concept is and how we’€™re going to do it.

Q: Is there a difference between the way you approach your job as a head coach now as opposed to the way you did 10 years ago?

BB: I feel like I’€™ve learned quite a bit in the last 10 or 15 years, at least I hope so. I learn things every day. It probably affects me going forward. We can learn things. You learn, you make mistakes, you correct them or you learn how to do something better or more efficiently and you implement that. I’€™d say it’€™s constant. Certainly, we’€™ve had a lot of changes in our game during that time. A lot of rules changes, practice and roster rules and just the way we can interact and coach players, what we’€™re allowed to do, what we’€™re not allowed to do. Of course, that has necessitated a lot of changes as well. I think the game is always changing. I’€™ve never seen any two years that are kind of the same. My approach to them isn’€™t really the same because there are too many variables that force you to do things differently. Yeah, it’€™s a lot of change.

Read More: 2013 training camp, Bill Belichick, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots
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