Matthew Slater explains why Patriots are ‘ultimately the perfect fit’ for his career
|04.22.14 at 2:09 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Matthew Slater knows a good thing when he sees one.
Being special teams captain on a perennial winner like the Patriots, with a chance to go to the Super Bowl nearly every season certainly qualifies.
Add to the fact that his coaches are special teams coach Scott O’Brien and head coach Bill Belichick, and it’s no surprise that Slater is loving life in New England, with no intentions of going anywhere else. Slater is entering the third and final year of a deal worth $5.4 million, signed in March 2012.
Taking time out from his offseason workout program inside Gillette Stadium, Slater, the special teams captain of the Patriots for the last three seasons, says he and the Patriots are a perfect fit because of the coaching he has received.
“I really feel like this is ultimately the perfect fit because coach Belichick understands that you have to have solid effort in all three phases to have a good football team,” Slater said. “That’s something he values and they value here and fortunate for me, I’ve been able to have a little bit of success doing that.
“I definitely think the cerebral part of the game, and really thinking about what you’re doing, having a plan of attack, understanding how you’re being attacked or blocked, understanding what you’re trying to do return-wise. He’s really opened my mind to just being more than a fast guy that’s running down and throwing my body around. It’s a thinking man’s game, believe it or not. He’s really helped me in that area. There’s also been things physically that he’s challenged me to do better. I’m really thankful to have played for a coach like that.”
Ironically, Slater, who is already entering his seventh season with the Patriots, has been in New England longer than his current special teams coach.
“Brad Seely was here my rookie year and Scott was in Denver,” said Slater, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA in 2008. “So, I didn’t meet Scott until he came here my second year. As I’ve said several times and I’ll say it again, I owe a lot of my success to Scott O’Brien and what he’s been able to do for me as a player.”
With the NFL Draft coming up on May 8, Slater couldn’t help but think back to that day in April 2008 when the Patriots took a chance on him.
“I think about it all the time,” said Slater, a speedy returner and wide receiver in college. “I was in a position where I didn’t know what was going to happen, didn’t know where I was going to end, didn’t know if I was going to get drafted. But thinking back on it, it really was a joy to be able to see that childhood dream come to fruition and be able to live that out. I’m still very thankful that this team took a chance on me and gave me an opportunity to live out my childhood dream.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be playing safety, receiver. I obviously knew I was going to be playing in the kicking game. But other than that, I was kind of an open book and ready to go where they asked me to go.”
Now, Slater plays a key role on all four special teams units, kickoff return and coverage and punt return and coverage.
“I think we can improve in all the big four units,” Slater said. “We left a lot of plays out there last year. Even though we had a successful season as a group, I think there are a lot of areas we can improve upon. I know there are a lot of areas I can improve upon. And I’m sure a lot of guys feel that way. We’re just looking to get better.
“I think there are so many facets of the game that I can improve on, we can improve on. Scotty is a very demanding coach. And to be able to know what he expects from us and know how to get better is very helpful. And to have that continuity, and I have a pretty good understanding of him, that goes a long way during crunch time in the season.”
Slater watched as a LeGarrette Blount became a force on the kickoff return unit toward the end of last season while Julian Edelman handled punts. With Blount gone to Pittsburgh, there will be changes to the kickoff return game. Any suggestions from Slater?
“That decision is certainly up to Scotty, Joe Judge and obviously, coach Belichick,” Slater said. “Like they always tell me, players play and coaches coach. That’s not up to me. There are a lot of guys that are more than capable of getting the job done. So, we’ll see how it unfolds.”
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