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Most Important Patriots of 2016: No. 19, Matthew Slater 07.03.16 at 11:00 am ET
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Matthew Slater has carved out a niche as one of the best special teamers in the NFL. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Matthew Slater has carved out a niche as one of the best special teamers in the NFL. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As the countdown to training camp begins later this month, we’re going to take a look at the 20 most important members of the Patriots heading into 2016.

19. Special teamer Matthew Slater
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 205 pounds
Age: 30

Resume: A fifth-round pick of the Patriots out of UCLA in 2008, he was a perpetual bubble candidate his first few seasons in the league because there wasn’t really a spot for him on the roster. Even now, he’s listed as a wide receiver, but that’s only because you simply can’t list someone as a pure special teamer. But entering his ninth year in the league, he’s evolved into become one of the best special teamers in the NFL. (If you don’t believe our assessment — or care to drop the cash to watch the All-22 coaches film on a weekly basis — check out what fellow NFL special teamer Lorenzo Alexander had to say about Slater and his work here.) Possessed with lights-out speed and a gonzo approach as a gunner, the five-time Pro Bowler has grown into one of Bill Belichick’s two favorite special teamers of all-time. (The second is Larry Izzo.) From a numbers standpoint, he led the team in special teams tackles three of the four seasons between 2010 and 2014: 21 in 2010, 17 in 2011, 20 in 2012 and 14 special teams tackles in 2014.

Why we ranked him here: Few players are more respected in the locker room than Slater, but it goes beyond that. Seriously, if you’re one of the people out there scratching your head and trying to figure out why he’s here, go and watch the game film sometime. When it comes to special teams, there is no one in the league right now who is more consistently as quick, disruptive and more intelligent than Slater. If he was taken by another team that didn’t put such a premium on special teams, given what happened to him in his first two years, there’s the very real chance he’d either be out of the league or end up as a consummate NFL journeyman. But instead, New England’s perennial special teams captain grown into a foundational element for one of the best franchises in the league.

Quote: “He’s a great example for all of us both on and off the field. Nobody works harder and puts more into it. Matthew really understands what his role on the team is, he’s embraced it and he’s turned it into a great career for himself. He definitely imparts his experience to other guys, not just rookies, although he does it to them, too, but really he’s a great inspiration for all of us and all the players in how professional he is, the way he goes about his business and how committed he is to the team. He gives us tremendous leadership.” — Bill Belichick on Matthew Slater, 11/26/15

Random note: The Slater family — Matt and his Hall of Fame father Jackie — have a combined 12 Pro Bowl appearances between them. When it comes to father-son duos, only the Manning family (Archie and Peyton) have more with 16.

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Hall of Famer Jackie Slater: I initially tried to keep son Matt away from football 06.21.16 at 2:00 pm ET
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Matthew Slater

Matthew Slater

Matthew Slater has carved out a nice niche as the Patriots special teams captain. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder has been a three-time All-Pro, emerging as one of the best special teamers in the game.

But his father, Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, said this week he tried to do everything he could to steer him away from the game at an early age.

“I did everything to discourage the football end of sports,” Jackie said on the Talk of Fame Network, “but he just kept gravitating back toward it. Basketball he played. Soccer he played. Those sports just weren’t exciting enough for him. He liked a lot of action.

“I just didn’t think he was big enough,” Jackie added. “When I was 13 years old I was six feet tall and I weighed 245. And I was wearing a size-42 in the waist and a 32 in the inseam. He wasn’t headed in that direction at all, and I’ve always seen football as a big man’s game — always felt a big man is better than a good little man.”

He said: “So I didn’t think he was going to be able to fit in, and I certainly wasn’t going to be able to help him as a little guy because I didn’t know anything about what he was doing. So it was just kind of my deal to discourage him and encourage him in a different direction.”

While Jackie is a Hall of Famer and one of the most respected players in recent NFL history, Matthew has been able to one-up his Dad in terms of Super Bowl wins. It’s one of several reasons he remains proud of his son and what he’s been able to accomplish in his eight-year career with the Patriots.

“If you had told me I’d be watching that young man do some of the things he’s doing,” Jackie said, “I never would’ve believed it.”

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Bryan Stork, Woodrow Hamilton among those involved in Wednesday practice scrap 06.08.16 at 3:21 pm ET
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Bryan Stork

Bryan Stork

FOXBORO — Toward the end of Wednesday’s minicamp session, there was a scrap that appeared to involve offensive lineman Bryan Stork, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton.

Devin McCourty could be seen shepherding Hamilton away from the pile, while Matthew Slater was doing the same thing with Hightower, and it looked like Hamilton and Stork were sent off to run.

After practice, coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t shed any light on the skirmish, but special teams captain Matthew Slater acknowledged that when it comes to football, sometimes emotions can run a little hot.

“Football is an emotional game, and your emotions are going to get the best of you at times. Especially when we’re out here competing, competing for a job,” said Slater. “So we like to see the competitiveness in the practices, but we have to be smart. We all know that numbers are limited at this level, and we have to take care of one another as we practice. We have to be smart at that. At the same time, you like the competitive nature of practice. It’s a double-edged sword.”

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Malcom Brown on family life, being a Patriots leader: ‘It makes you not do dumb things’ 06.02.16 at 9:48 pm ET
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Malcom Brown shares a laugh Thursday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/

Malcom Brown shares a laugh Thursday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/

FOXBORO — In today’s NFL, it’s easy to make bad mistakes.

Just in the last year, there was Jason Pierre-Paul on July 4, 2015 and his ill-fated experiment with fireworks and Chandler Jones’ trip to the hospital after allegedly getting sick with bad synthetic substance a week before the Patriots-Chiefs playoff game.

Last year, the then-21-year-old Malcom Brown had no time to lose his way. The 3-technique defensive tackle out of Texas had to prove to the Patriots that he belonged as a big part of the franchise’s future. And by the end of the season, the 6-foot-2, 320-pound behemoth had shown everyone that he was a reliable anchor on the line.

What was the key? Brown said Thursday, taking a break from OTAs, that his family life has played a big, big role. Brown, when he was still at Texas working on his consensus All-American form, became a father and husband. He has two daughters, five-year-old Rayna and two-year-old Mayah and his wife Faith, whom he met at Texas.

Does his maturity and family life help him handle responsibility in Foxboro?

“Yeah, it does. It makes you not do dumb things because you have more than yourself to think about,” Brown said. “I focus on my job because it pays the bills. My family, they look up to me because I’m providing for them and stuff. I just make sure I have a different look on things instead of being a young guy in the league and going through the different parts of being at this level. You hone in on what you need to do in the business aspect of everything, too.”

Other Patriots have taken notice, even veterans new to the franchise. Last week, Terrance Knighton said that Brown, in just his second season, has taken a leadership role for defensive linemen, showing those like Knighton what is expected on and off the field as a Patriot.

“I’m just trying to take new guys, young guys and do what the older guys did for me,” Brown said. “Just help them along with the plays and stuff and try to get them to transition better.”

“I think Malcom, he was a unique young guy last year,” Matthew Slater said Thursday. “He came in with a sense of maturity about himself that you don’t often see out of a young player and it’s no surprise that he’s stepping up and leading now. I think he has a great demeanor about himself that kind of guys are drawn to him.

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Matthew Slater on Tom Brady: ‘We stand by him. He’s been nothing but a great teammate.’ at 4:00 pm ET
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Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates with wide receiver Matthew Slater (18) after beating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady celebrates with Matthew Slater after winning Super Bowl XLIX. (Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Robert Kraft may not have wanted to offer any comment on the amicus brief he filed in support of Tom Brady in court last week.

But special teams captain Matthew Slater, the team’s union rep, made it clear Thursday that the Patriots quarterback has the full and undisputed support of every player in the locker room.

The NFLPA has been supported by Kraft and the team (last week) and the AFL-CIO (this week) in their request to allow Tom Brady his day in court in an en banc hearing before a panel of judges. Brady and his attorneys want to prove that the NFL improperly administered its punishment of the quarterback and that the Second Circuit Appellate Court was wrong to re-instate the four-game suspension, thus overturning Judge Richard Berman’s decision of last September.

“Well, without going too deep into that, it’s a very complicated situation,” Slater said. “There are a lot of layers to it and there are a lot of layers that even I don’t understand and don’t see so I don’t think it’d be right for me to give a comment on that.

“I will say, as I’ve said several times in the past, that we support Tom. We stand by him. He’s been nothing but a great teammate and a great leader for this football team. I understand this is a difficult situation for various different reasons and we’ll just have to see how it plays itself out. But I know the guys in that locker room – we support Tom and we’re just going to continue to work hard and focus on the things that we can control.

“A lot of that situation is out of our control and we can’t spend time worrying about, ‘This court, that court’, because we don’t understand that. We don’t have the full knowledge and understanding of what’s going on so all I’ll say is we support Tom and we’re just going to continue to work the way we have been. However it plays out, it plays out.”

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Matthew Slater ‘very disappointed’ with NFL’s effort to limit kickoffs, hopes they’re not gone soon at 3:42 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Matthew Slater might be soft-spoken when he addresses the media but he’s intensely passionate about the game he plays.

And he doesn’t want anyone messing with it, especially when it comes to the job that has kept him in the NFL.

There’s been plenty of speculation this offseason that the NFL is moving closer and closer to all but taking kickoffs out of the game.

In 2011, coinciding with the new collective bargaining agreement, the league moved the kickoff from the 30-yard-line to the 35 to produce more touchbacks and thereby decreasing the returns and the subsequent violent collisions. In March, the league took another step toward limiting kickoffs, approving a rule that puts the ball at 25-yard-line instead of the 20 on touchbacks. Clearly, this is a disincentive to returning a kick.

Slater, a special teams captain and Pro Bowl-caliber player on special teams, doesn’t like the direction of things.

“There’s a lot of speculation as to the future of the kickoff,” Slater said. “I know this year I think it’s going to be interesting to see how teams approach it because [the touchback] just gives the team the ball on the 25 [yard line]. That changes field position quite a bit. It seems like just five yards but it’s going to be interesting to see how we approach it and how other teams approach it, and I’m very disappointed obviously in the way that we’re discussing the future of the kickoff. The kickoff is a big part of the history of the NFL and the history of football and for us to be sitting here talking about maybe doing away with the kickoff; it’s very disappointing.

“I can think about days all the way back to watching my dad when he played with the Rams and thinking of returners like Ron Brown and people of that nature that made a career out of doing this. You think about Steve Tasker and his impact on the game of football, Bill Bates, the list goes on. The kicking game has meant a lot to the game of football and to a lot of players individually and it’s enabled guys to have careers. You think about Larry Izzo, you think about myself. Without the kicking game we don’t have a career. I’m very disappointed in some of the things I hear in regards to getting rid of the kickoff. I surely hope that’s not the case. I hope that’s not the direction that we’re moving in but we’ll see.”

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Perfect attendance at Patriots practice Thursday 01.21.16 at 1:04 pm ET
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FOXBORO — All Patriots players on the active roster and practice squad were accounted for at Thursday’s full padded practice held on the grass fields behind Gillette Stadium in advance of Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Broncos.

Matthew Slater (shin), who missed Wednesday’s walkthrough, was present. Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, who were injured against the Chiefs were present as well.

All this is good news heading into Sunday’s AFC title game.

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