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ST captain Matthew Slater to deliver commencement address at Fisher College in May 03.03.15 at 12:42 pm ET
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Fisher College announced Tuesday that Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree this May.

The 29-year-old Slater, who was a fifth-round pick of the franchise in 2008, has become an indispensable part of New England’s special teams unit, eventually rising to the role of captain. In his seven seasons with the Patriots, he’s not only distinguished himself as a terrific special teams player, but as a vital and well-respected leader in the locker room.

“We are truly honored to Matthew Slater address our graduates this year,” said Dr. Thomas M. McGovern, president of Fisher College. “Mr. Slater is a world champion both on the field and off through his tireless work mentoring local students. We share the same mission and believe that Mr. Slater’s commencement address will have a resounding impact on our graduates, their families and the entire Fisher College community.”

Read More: Matthew Slater,
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Special teams 02.09.15 at 9:30 am ET
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Julian Edelman again carved out a niche as one of the best punt returners in the league. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Julian Edelman again carved out a niche as one of the best punt returners in the league. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We kick off the series with a look at the special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, kick returner Danny Amendola, punt returner Julian Edelman, long snapper Danny Aiken, coverage man Matthew Slater

Overview: While the Patriots got steady and consistent performances on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball all year, the special teams were a true difference maker for New England on several occasions over the course of the 2014 season.

The Patriots had three different players win AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors, they tied for the league lead in field goals blocked per game, and were among the league leaders in almost every major special teams category. Gostkowski finished second in the league in field-goal accuracy (at 94.6 percent, he was second only to Indy’€™s Adam Vinatieri at 96.8 percent) and Edelman’€™s 12.0 return average on punt returns was second best in the NFL this season (trailing only Philly’€™s Darren Sproles at 13.0.) Meanwhile, Amendola gave a midseason boost to the kick return unit, and provided some consistency, averaging 24.1 yards per return, including an 81-yarder in a win over the Lions. Allen was 12th in the league in net punting average (39.9), dropped 25 of his 66 regular-season punts inside the 20 and set a Super Bowl record with a 64-yard punt in the third quarter of last Sunday’€™s win over the Seahawks. The Patriots were also fifth in the league in kick coverage (yielding 21.2 yards per attempt) and 16th in punt coverage (9.2 yards per attempt). All in all, a terrific season for New England’€™s special teams unit, which came up big on several occasions over the course of the year.

Going forward, the group will be challenged, as longtime special teams coach Scott O’€™Brien announced his retirement in the days after the Super Bowl. Special teams assistant Joe Judge will take the reins, and while he’€™s considered a well-respected coach who is ready to ascend, it’€™ll be tough to replicate what O’€™Brien did with the group in 2014.

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Read More: Danny Aiken, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater
Extra special: Patriots special teams has excelled under coach Scott O’Brien 01.28.15 at 12:44 am ET
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Scott O'Brien has been the Patriots' special teams coach for six years. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Scott O’Brien has been the Patriots’ special teams coach for six years. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Often times on some NFL teams, the special teams unit gets over looked. Not so much with the New England Patriots.

Led by special teams coach Scott O’Brien — in his sixth year in New England, but serving as a special teams coach in the NFL since 1991 — the Patriots have emerged as one of the better special teams units in the league, making game-changing plays on numerous occasions.

The Patriots’ special teams group finished first in Rick Gosselin’s famous NFL special teams rankings this year and finished seventh in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranking, a major credit to the work O’Brien has done with his players.

“I’€™m not sure,” O’Brien said when asked why he’s coached special teams exclusively for 23 seasons. “I’€™m sure I was influenced by a lot of people I came up with through my career. I’€™ve always enjoyed it as a player. I can’€™t put my finger on it, but it’€™s always been something I’€™ve enjoyed doing. I love the schemes, the creation of it. I don’€™t know. I don’€™t think it’€™s just one thing. I’€™ve had a lot of influences on me.”

New England has blocked five kicks this season — four field goals and one punt. The unit has seen three players get named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Chris Jones for his field goal block in the closing seconds against the Jets in Week 7, Julian Edelman for his punt return for a touchdown against the Broncos in Week 9 and Ryan Allen for his field position changing punts in Week 14 against the Chargers.

The four blocked field goals on the year was a franchise record.

“I think a lot of it has been, like I said, timing,” O’Brien said. “It’€™s a group effort no matter who blocks it. To block kicks in this league is hard to do. It usually takes more than one thing to happen to have that success, but I think these guys have always worked hard at it. You just get the right combination of the right players in the right spot. You give them a chance to have success, and they have it. It’€™s obviously had a big impact during the games.”

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Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, Brandon Bolden, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner
Patriots guarding against some sneaky Seahawks special teamers 01.27.15 at 1:03 am ET
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Matthew Slater says the Patriots are ready for anything the Seattle special teamers might throw at them. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Matthew Slater says the Patriots are ready for anything the Seattle special teamers might throw at them. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

CHANDLER, Ariz. –€” Over the course of the 2014 regular season, the Patriots were able to distinguish themselves as having one of the best special teams groups in the league. New England was able to deliver game-changing special teams plays almost every week, including blocked field-goal attempts, blocked punts and important returns.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was the second-best kicker in the league, converting 95 percent of his field-goal attempts. Meanwhile, punter Ryan Allen was 12th in the league in punting, and his work in a December win over the Chargers was enough to win him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Chris Jones, Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork and Jamie Collins all blocked field goal attempts, and punt returner Julian Edelman‘€™s 12 yards per opportunity was second-best in the league. Overall, Football Outsiders had the Patriots as the fifth-best special teams grouping in the league.

At the same time, the Seahawks also had a relatively steady and dependable group of special teamers over the course of the 2014 season. They were 19th in the NFL per Football Outsiders, but they’€™ve taken it to the next level in the playoffs. In their divisional playoff win over the Panthers, defensive back Kam Chancellor jumped over the pile twice in hopes of trying to block field goals. Punter Jon Ryan — while working as a holder –€” executed a perfect fake field goal that ended up going for a touchdown in the NFC title game. And kicker Steven Hauschka delivered a well-executed onsides kick to help set up the win over the Packers as well.

According to Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater, the focus this week for New England will be  playing with “a lot of alertness”€ against a sneaky group of Seattle special teamers.

“€œI think that we have to understand that every time our unit takes the field, we have to expect them to be trying to make a big play to swing momentum,”€ Slater said. “It’€™s our job to either stop that big play from happening or create one ourselves.

“€œWe’€™ve watched a lot of film on these guys. We have to be prepared situationally moving into the game. When you talk about trick plays, you never can predict those. At the end of the day, we’€™re going to have to play fundamentally sound and be able to react if something like that does come up.”

Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks
Patriots locker room reaction over Deflategate flap: ‘We’re just focusing on Seattle’ 01.22.15 at 3:07 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A handful of Patriots players addressed the charges of under-inflated footballs in last Sunday’s AFC title game against the Colts in the locker room Thursday morning:

Special teams captain Matthew Slater: “Certainly that is something we have addressed and will continue to address. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla. Your families are really excited but we have a job to do. This is not a vacation for us. This is not a celebration. We have a job to do and at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to and that’s where our focus needs to be. As a team, to a man, we need to make sure we have our minds in the right place, our focus in the right place, and that’s playing football. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.”

Slater on any worries about Deflategate? “I feel pretty confident in saying we’re just focusing on Seattle. … We’re all about focusing on what’s going on inside these doors here and there’s always going to be a lot of buzz going outside these doors, and we’ve been trained to ignore that, and we have to. We can’t allow ourselves to get caught up in positive or negative things. We just have to focus on us and doing our jobs.”

Defensive end/long snapper Rob Ninkovich: “I’m not even getting into that, because really I’m focused on what I have to do, and that’s get better today. Practice for the biggest game of my life. I’m moving on from that — I have nothing to say about that. I’m going to focus in on what my job is and that’s to play good football. I’m not even thinking about anything from the past. I’m thinking about the future.

“The only time I touch a football is if I recover it or if I’m snapping it. Or intercept it. Or causing fumbles. I’m past that. I’m looking forward ti another opportunity that you don’t get often. I’m excited — very, very excited to get this week of preparation going, and get gong in the process.”

Cornerback Kyle Arrington: “Well, I’m sure like a lot of guys have said — and I’m no different — that I don’t have anything to do with that process or that nature when it comes to the footballs. I can’t really comment. … We’re only concerned about the guys in this locker room and winning the football game.”

Arrington on whether or not he can tell if its a deflated football: “Well, considering that typically, historically, we all have the worst hands of anyone on the football field, I don’t care what condition it’s in, as long as we can catch it. … I don’t really handle the ball too often. It’s not really my concern.”

Punter Ryan Allen: “I can’t really shed any further light on the whole ball situation. We’re just focused on what we need to do this week and next week to prepare for Seattle.”

Running back Jonas Gray on Deflategate: “I have no idea. I think that’s the one thing about this entire team. We really don’t know anything about the balls and inflation. I didn’t know they even checked it beforehand. It’s one of those things where we just go out and play the game.”

Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, Deflategate, Jonas Gray, Kyle Arrington
Why Julian Edelman is always running for his football life 01.15.15 at 10:15 pm ET
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Julian Edelman has made a tradition of leading the Patriots onto the field. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Julian Edelman has made a tradition of leading the Patriots onto the field. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — His run onto the Gillette Stadium field before a game has become a trademark that identifies Julian Edelman as officially ready to play.

Last Saturday, that tradition nearly took out a member of the armed forces as part of the pre-game honor guard that lines up to welcome the Patriots onto the field. Thursday, Edelman was asked if he’s got to be careful with the color guard and people on the field?

“I know, I’€™ve ran through the fireworks like three times,” Edelman said. “I’€™ve hit almost a soldier a couple times; I’€™ve had to apologize about that. So it’€™s definitely something I’€™ve got to work on.

“We’€™ve had some [pyrotechnic] stuff, whatever, and I ran through those once. It was pretty scary.”

But pyrotechnics pale in comparison to the thought of Edelman not making it from college at Kent State to the NFL. Edelman’s college career began at the College of San Mateo, a junior college where he raised eyebrows as a college quarterback.

“I feel like I’€™m pretty self-motivated,” Edelman said. “I’€™ve never really been the top of the class anywhere I’€™ve went per say. I don’€™t think you keep that in your mind. Maybe earlier in my career you did, but around here you’€™re just trying to get all of those questions right for coach Belichick, so you got to keep your mind in other areas. That’€™s really what you do, you just try to focus on our opponent and this week it’€™s the Indianapolis Colts. It’€™s going to be the toughest game of the year.”

Edelman spent a year at the College of San Mateo before transferring to Kent State University. At Kent State, Edelman was a three-year starter at quarterback. His senior year, Edelman was the Golden Flashes’ leading passer, completing 56 percent of his passes, throwing 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

He was also their leading rusher, gaining 1,370 yards on 215 attempts (an average of 6.4 yards per carry) and scoring 13 touchdowns. His total offense broke Joshua Cribbs’s single-season school record, set in 2003. Then came the NFL combine, where he impressed the Patriots enough to be selected in the seventh round in 2009.

On Thursday, Edelman said the drive for his excellence began with some advice from the hardest working man he knows – his dad.

“There’€™s something that my dad always used to say ‘€“ this is while I was training for the combine, I’€™d come in and I’€™d be done training, and he’€™d be like, ‘€˜Did you outwork those guys’€™ and I was like ‘€˜Dad, I was running by myself’€™ [and] he goes, ‘€˜I’€™m not talking about those guys, I’€™m talking about the three kids that are still in high school that are going to be trying to take your job in three [or] four years, five years.’€™ I always to try to think about [that] kind of stuff,” Edelman said. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2015 playoffs, AFC Championship, Indianapolis Colts, Julian Edelman
Stepping up: 5 relatively unheralded Patriots who could hold key to postseason success 01.08.15 at 12:35 am ET
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If teams try and take away Rob Gronkowski this postseason, Tim Wright could be in for more work. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

If teams try and take away Rob Gronkowski this postseason, Tim Wright could be in for more work. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

While Saturday’€™s matchup will be a showdown between some of the more high-profile players in the AFC, there are more than a few individuals who are under-the-radar types who will likely play a sizable role in the outcome of the contest. When it comes to New England players who could be asked to rise to the occasion on Saturday –€” and beyond –€” here are our five choices:

Cornerback Kyle Arrington: Before he went down with an injury late in the season, the slot corner had become one of the most durable defensive backs in the league — his streak of 83 consecutive regular-season games played was one of the best on the team, a mark that stretched all the way back to 2009. Because no quarterback wants to risk targeting Darrelle Revis or Brandon Browner on a regular basis, when the Patriots have faced elite passing games — as they will in the postseason –€” this New England pass defense is only as it as its third corner. Regardless of who has been in the game, when the Patriots have been in their sub defense, we’€™ve already seen several really good quarterbacks go after the third or fourth option at corner. While Arrington has demonstrated an ability as one of the better slot corners in the league, he also brings nice depth to the secondary, and could potential cover over any deficiencies that could pop up in the playoffs. Look for him to have a central role this postseason, especially with a handful of intriguing matchups possibly looming. (Denver’€™s Wes Welker? Indy’€™s Reggie Wayne? Seattle’€™s Doug Baldwin? Green Bay’€™s Randall Cobb?)

Guard Dan Connolly: When he’€™s been healthy, Connolly has been one of the most consistent offensive linemen on the New England roster. (Ryan Hannable had an excellent breakdown here of what it’€™s meant to have a healthy Connolly –€” as well as the other four starters — up front this season for the Patriots.) But the veteran has struggled with injury over the course of the season, and has missed three games this year with a variety of issues, including a concussion and an ankle injury. He was not in the lineup for the final two games of the year, and left tackle Nate Solder appeared to struggle at times as a result. A healthy Connolly would go a long way toward stabilizing the offensive line, and provide more time in the pocket for quarterback Tom Brady. If he’€™s not at 100 percent, it could make for a dicey situation for Brady’€™s blind side.

Defensive lineman Sealver Siliga: Siliga has performed very well as a complimentary piece along the defensive line, working alongside the likes of veterans like Vince Wilfork and Alan Branch, becoming an integral part of New England’€™s rotation of defensive linemen. The Utah product is versatile, and just as adept at getting after the passer as he is to two-gapping and holding up offensive linemen to allow linebackers and fellow defensive linemen to make plays. Ever since he came back from designated for return-injured reserve in Week 14 against the Chargers, he’€™s been a steady and consistent presence, playing 61 percent of the defensive snaps over the last three weeks. Look for that role to continue to expand going forward into the postseason.

Special teamer Matthew Slater: This isn’€™t so much Slater, but more of a nod to special teams as a whole. (From this viewpoint, using the special teams captain only seems fitting.) As a grouping, they’€™ve managed to distinguish themselves as one of the best and most impactful group of special teamers in the league. Every week, there’€™s some sort of momentum-changing play. Whether it’€™s been a blocked field-goal attempt, blocked punt, punter kick return or a big coverage tackle, they have become a sizable part of New England’€™s success, and a big reason the Patriots have gotten as far as they have this year. It’€™s not just the potential high-impact plays, but the work of grunts like Nate Ebner, Brandon Bolden and Tavon Wilson that has continued to allow New England the success that it has had on special teams.

Tight end Tim Wright: Wright has distinguished himself as the most dependable pass-catcher in recent Patriots’€™ history, having caught 79 percent of the passes that were sent his way over the course of the season — a high for any offensive skill position player who was targeted at least 20 times in a single season. The tight end broke the previous mark of 77 percent, set by five different pass catchers, most recently Danny Woodhead (who caught 34 of 44 passes in 2010). Of course, that sure-handed skill is nothing new for Wright, who now has a two-year total as a pro (with the Buccaneers and Patriots) of 73 percent, a remarkable total for any receiver. With the focus of opposing defenses likely to be on fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski, Wright will almost surely have his opportunities in the passing game.

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Dan Connolly, Kyle Arrington, Matthew Slater
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