|Matthew Slater: ‘We can’t hang our heads’ with ‘amped’ Ravens up next||09.17.12 at 6:36 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater is one of the most friendly faces in the Patriots locker room.
But he had no intention of talking about the blocked punt or missed field goal from Sunday that combined to spell disaster in Sunday’s 20-18 loss to the Cardinals at Gillette Stadium.
“No, we didn’t dwell on it,” Slater said of his special teams meeting Monday with the coaching staff. “No need beating a dead horse. We know, obviously, we can’t do that and we’re going to get beat if we continue to experience plays like that. It’s just a matter of going back to our fundamentals and the techniques we’re taught in training camp. I’m confident it’ll be fixed.”
The added motivation for moving forward this week is the upcoming opponent. The Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night in Baltimore in a rematch of last January’s classic AFC championship game at Gillette that propelled the Patriots onto Super Bowl XLVI.
“They have great leadership over there,” Slater said. “They play the game the right way. They’re coached very well. We know we’re going to have our hands full as we do every time we play them. If there’s thing that we know, we need to prepare to play a physical football game. There’s going to be a lot of hitting involved. So, you know that going in playing this team. I’m sure they’re going to be amped up, Sunday night football at their house. We can’t hang our heads from [Sunday]. It’s time to pick up the pieces and move forward and get ready for these guys.”
Another topic that was off-limits Monday was improving the work ethic during practice, something several players hinted after Sunday’s loss was missing last week.
“I really don’t want to address that one, to be honest with you,” Slater said. “We just have to go out and practice hard and do the right things.
“We’re moving on. You know I’m going to talk about that. We saw what happened and we have to learn from it and hopefully we can improve upon it going forward because I’m sure we’re going to see similar things, similar rushes from teams and they’re going to try and get after us. It’s been corrected and we’re going to move on.”
|Cuts like a knife: With roster reduction looming, Patriots vets talk about facing the Turk||08.26.12 at 2:47 pm ET|
It is one of the toughest times of the year. The Patriots, who have 85 on the roster as of Sunday afternoon, have to get down to 75 players by Monday at 4. And then, by Friday, the roster has to be at 53.
It’s never an easy process to tell someone they’ve been cut — in his first professional job with the Colts, Bill Belichick served as the “Turk.” That’s where he earned the nickname ‘Billy Bad News’ because he was the guy assigned to tell players that they needed to see the coach … and that they had to bring their playbook.
It’s also difficult stretch for players, even those who aren’t on the roster bubble. First-round pick Devin McCourty saw his brother Jason have to hold his breath through a series of cuts with the Titans when they were both rookies.
‘I remember when my brother was in the same spot early when he was a sixth-round draft pick,’ said Devin. ‘I told him, ‘You did everything you could to work hard for that position so, whatever happens, just be happy and be proud of yourself.’
‘I think one of the worst parts about this business [are] those two large cutdown dates. I think a lot of the young guys and guys that are on the team have worked hard and I think coming in every day, putting their best foot forward, working hard and then letting the chips fall where they may.’
In his first few years in the league, Matthew Slater was a perennial candidate to be cut. He solidified a spot the last two seasons — a Pro Bowl berth in 2011 finally silenced the critics — but he can recall some tough times at the end of the summer when he was wondering what might happen.
‘It was definitely a tough time,’ he said. ‘What I learned early in my career is to try not to think about it and just go out and continue my job, [to] focus on what I had to do. Really, at the end of the day, if I put forth my best effort, that’s all I could control. It’s tough when you’re worrying about things you can’t control, because it can consume you. I just learned not to play the numbers game, and just try to go out and take advantage of each and every day that you have here, and hope for the best from there.
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|Countdown to Patriots Camp: Wide receiver||07.24.12 at 8:46 pm ET|
In the days leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we’ll take a quick look at how each position shakes out. We’ve looked at quarterback, tight end and running back. Now, it’s the wide receivers:
Roster (2011 stats): Brandon Lloyd (70 catches, 966 yards, five touchdowns with Denver and St. Louis), Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns), Deion Branch (51 catches, 702 yards, five touchdowns), Jabar Gaffney (68 catches, 947 yards, five touchdowns with Washington), Donte Stallworth (22 catches, 309 yards, two touchdowns with Washington), Julian Edelman (four catches, 34 yards), Matthew Slater (one catch, 46 yards), Jeremy Ebert, Britt Davis, Jesse Holley (seven catches, 169 yards for Dallas).
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
Brandon Lloyd has the most unique skill set of any wide receiver that Tom Brady has ever worked with. We covered this back in the spring, but it bears repeating — Lloyd’s ability to work on both intermediate and deep routes, as well as his ability to compete for jump balls, make him a completely different receiver than anyone Brady has worked with. After getting the chance to throw to Lloyd on a regular basis in the spring, Brady bottom-lined it: ‘We haven’t had anyone quite like him,’ the quarterback said of Lloyd, who followed former offensive coordinator and head coach Josh McDaniels back to New England. (For more on their relationship and Lloyd’s potential impact, click HERE.)
Deion Branch doesn’t have the wheels that he used to, but his smarts, knowledge of the system and great working relationship with the quarterback should be enough to keep him in Foxboro for another year. The 33-year-old, who probably played more than he should have last season because of Chad Ochocinco‘s inadequacies, will still have a role in this passing game. And while shouldn’t have the same sort of production he had last year, there will be at least three occasions in 2012 where he comes up with a big play based solely on his background with Brady.
The acclimation process between Tom Brady and the new receivers should be a little easier than it was for No. 85 last season. You figure that with Gaffney and Stallworth already having spent time in the New England offense, the getting-to-know-you timetable should be minimal. As for Lloyd, he was asked this spring if he believes the Patriots system would be a difficult one to pick up. He responded with a quick, one-word answer: ‘No.’ OK then.
Can Wes Welker ignore the noise? No Patriots’ player has had a more eventful six-month stretch than Welker. He had 122 catches last year, but ended the 2011 season glassy-eyed and teary after failing to come up with a Brady pass that would have likely closed out the Giants in the Super Bowl. Since that game, he’s been hit with the franchise tag, signed his tender, gone back and forth with the franchise about his contract, gotten married, endorsed adult diapers and revealed the most remarkable story involving Larry Izzo you will ever hear. He starts the 2012 season under the microscope — without a long-term deal, there will be speculation that he’s starting his final year in New England. However, Welker’s track record indicates that he should be able to block out the distractions and focus on the task at hand. Provided he stays healthy, look for another 100-plus catch season from the slot machine.
How many wide receivers can one team carry? Right now, it looks like six or seven, depending on what they want to do with Donte Stallworth: Lloyd, Welker, Gaffney, Edelman, Slater and Branch, with Ebert, Davis and Holley all practice squad possibilities. To his credit, Stallworth spent time this spring working as a returner on special teams, ostensibly to try and increase his overall value to the team. But right now, he would appear to face an uphill battle in a fight for a roster spot.
Why has this team had trouble developing young wide receivers? It’s more of a big picture question (perhaps best answered another day), but when you’re talking about wide receivers, it’s worth mentioning once again that the Patriots haven’t been able to develop a young wide receiver since the Deion Branch/David Givens combo nearly 10 years ago. Since then, they’ve relied on imports like Welker, Moss, Gaffney and Lloyd … and Ochocinco, Galloway and Donald Hayes. The veterans have been good enough to keep the passing game humming — and maybe the Patriots have found something with their younger receivers Ebert, Davis and Holley — but for a team that’s enjoyed so much success in player development in so many other areas (they turn JAGs into starting offensive linemen on an annual basis), it’s an odd anomaly.
By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: Wes Welker’s passes dropped (including postseason): 2008 — 3; 2009 — 13; 2010 — 14; 2011 — 15.
The skinny: As we discussed earlier, while the passing game might not reach 2007 levels, they might not be far off. And while the tight ends have emerged as a potent force for Brady, the receiving corps is deep, smart and filled with the sort of veterans you can build an offense around. (‘This group that I’m working with, they’re as professional and as good a group as I’ve ever been around,’ Patriots wide receiver coach Chad O’Shea said this spring.) Lloyd appears poised for a monster year, while there’s no reason to think Welker won’t have a typical Welkeresque season. Gaffney is as underrated as they come, and Branch remains a steady and reliable presence for Brady. They may be getting a little older, but there’s no reason to think that this group of receivers won’t be one of the best in the league statistically when the season is done.
|Patriots continue tradition of involvement at NFL rookie symposium with talks from Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater||06.25.12 at 7:03 pm ET|
Patriots’ veterans Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater are two of the players who will be addressing the rookies about the perils they’ll face in the league during this week’s annual rookie symposium. According to AFC PR chief Corry Rush, Devin and Jason McCourty addressed the NFC rookies Sunday, and will speak to the AFC rookies on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Slater will address the NFC rookies Tuesday and the AFC rookies on Friday.
The rookie symposium isn’t the same old seminar — speakers (both current and former players, as well as ex-coaches) focus on cautionary tales of sex, drugs (both performance-enhancers and otherwise), personal conduct and financial matters. Created in 1997, the Patriots have long been part of the process: Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour have addressed rookies, with Seymour talking in 2002 after his own rookie season. In a story Seymour later related to reporters, he talked a night where the rookies had to take the veterans out to dinner. A first-round pick in 2001, Seymour to fork over $15,000. ‘That was when I decided to put myself on a budget,’ he later said.
And the Patriots’ rookies have won the ‘Ultimate Rookie Challenge,’ a trivia contest held at the end of the symposium that featured questions on the materials they learned twice in the last four years, with each rookie taking home a flat-screen television for their efforts.
All of the members of New England’s 2012 draft class are expected to be in attendance this week. And in addition to McCourty and Slater, other players who have experienced a myriad of off-field issues are scheduled to address players, including Michael Vick, Adam Jones and Michael Irvin. In addition to McCourty and Slater, other current and former players scheduled to talk are Terrell Owens, Antonio Freeman, LaVar Arrington, Aeneas Williams, Jamie Dukes, Luther Ellis and Carl Eller. They will speak on a variety of topics, including subjects like ‘Are You Bigger Then The Game’ and ‘What Defines Success?’
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|Five years later, Donte Stallworth ready for his second stint in New England||05.15.12 at 1:45 pm ET|
FOXBORO — A little older and a little wiser, wide receiver Donte Stallworth is ready for his second act with the Patriots.
The well-traveled Stallworth, who spent the 2007 season in New England before leaving as a free agent, jumped at the opportunity to return to the Patriots, signing a one-year deal as a free agent in March. It was a chance to not only go back to the scene of some of his greatest professional success, but to do so with an increased wisdom, one he confessed he didn’t necessarily have in his first go-round with New England.
‘I’m a lot more mature now than I was then,’ Stallworth said Tuesday during a break between workouts at Gillette Stadium. ‘I feel like I’m playing better. I’m in a better place mentally, physically and I just felt like at that time I was still trying to mature and grow into a professional athlete. I feel like I’m a lot further down the road than I was last time.
‘Back then, I was really more relying on my talent,’ said the 6-foot, 220-pounder. ‘Now that I’m going into my 10th year, I think I run better routes now and understand different coverages and what teams are trying to do.’
The 31-year-old Stallworth, who had 46 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns with the Patriots in 2007, said a large portion of that increased off-field maturity is because of what he went through in 2009 when he was charged with DUI manslaughter following an accident in Florida. He spent time in jail, and was suspended for the duration of the 2009 season.
‘The year I was out and just sitting around and watching my teammates play and watching my friends play, it was not a good feeling,’ Stallworth said. ‘It’s the same, even when you’re hurt. Guys never want to miss games. Anytime you miss something that you appreciate in life or that you love in life, if you have an opportunity to get it back, you always have a better appreciate for it next time.’
Stallworth said that after spending time with the Browns (2008), Ravens (2010) and Redskins (2011), walking back into the New England locker room was an ‘interesting’ experience.
‘It was a little weird feeling. It was kind of surreal,’ he said. ‘But honestly, I think it took about a week or so to get adjusted and to really realize that, hey, I really am back; it’s not just a dream. It’s been good being back and seeing a lot of the same, familiar faces — friendly faces. So it’s been good. It’s been five years, but not much has changed other than all the restaurants and stuff around here. That’s a big difference.’
Stallworth enters a crowded field at wide receiver — the Patriots have loaded up this offseason at a position they were already pretty well stocked coming off the 2011 season. Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Gonzalez and Brandon Lloyd join a group that includes Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Britt Davis, Matthew Slater and Chad Ochocinco.
‘It’s going to be good competition; we’re all friends, we all have known each other for awhile and respected each other’s games, so we’re going to make each other better,’ Stallworth said. ‘We’ve been doing that now, with the workouts and really having fun, and the real fun gets to start on Monday when we start practicing. Who knows how it will play out, but I’m feeling good; I’m feeling healthy.’
Here are some more highlights of Stallworth’s Q&A with the media:
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|Dane Fletcher free of cast, says he’s fully recovered from thumb injury||04.12.12 at 7:38 pm ET|
PROVIDENCE — After undergoing multiple surgeries on a thumb injury sustained in the preseason, Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher has finally removed the cast that had been on his hand for much of the offseason.
Fletcher took part in a charity event at Hasbro Children’s Hospital Thursday in Providence along with teammates Kevin Faulk and Matthew Slater, bringing smiles and signed memorabilia to patients before taking part in a charity radiothon. While speaking to media after visiting patients, Fletcher also had news that should bring smiles to the faces of Patriots fans.
“We’re good baby,” Fletcher said, cheerfully waving his unencumbered hands in the air in front of a gaggle of reporters. “No worries there.”
The thumb injury had limited Fletcher for much of the regular season and forced him to miss six games entirely before returning against the Redskins on Dec. 11. Now, though, Fletcher is back where he wants to be, healthwise, and ready to get back on the field, telling reporters that he is pleased with his offseason preparation.
“It’s been good,” Fletcher said. “I’ve been progressing just like I wanted to and I just hope to continue there and enjoy my time a little bit back in Montana and relax.”
Now that he’s back at full capacity, Fletcher is now itching to get back on the field. His timing couldn’t be better, with the Patriots’ OTAs beginning next week.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Fletcher said. “A lot of the same faces, a lot of new faces, just get to know everybody again and start from scratch.”
Slater and Fletcher spoke about participating in charity functions like this one and how giving back was just another part of being a player in the NFL.
“As players, we’ve been extremely blessed with all the opportunities that we’ve been afforded and I think the least we can do is come back and visit these kids and try to put a smile on their face,” Slater said. “So, me and Dane, we’re excited about coming out here and visiting these kids and trying to make their day. What they get through on an everyday basis is real life and they’re going through some real struggle and hopefully we can give them a pick-me-up.”
|The Slater family finds important lessons in rewatching Super Bowl defeat||04.11.12 at 6:43 pm ET|
‘’I watched a little bit of it, only because my dad made me watch it,’ he said with a rueful smile. ‘But, it was tough to watch it. We got so close. We were winning with four minutes left in the game. You could taste victory. A lot of effort and heart and soul was put into that [game], to get to that point. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out. But we can’t dwell on that. It’s time for us to look to 2012.’’
Slater was unsure why his father ‘ former Rams offensive lineman Jackie Slater — made him watch the game again.
‘I don’t know — you’ll have to ask him,’ he said. ‘I think he wanted me to really relish what we were able to do, get into that stage, and it was something to be proud of. At the same time, learn from that experience and try to improve.’’
When reached by phone on Wednesday, his father had a simple explanation for the mandatory viewing.
‘It wouldn’t make a lick of sense to reach the pinnacle of your chosen profession and not look at the things that you and your teammates did well, and then also see the things that ultimately foiled you,’ Jackie said. ‘If you can do that, you’ll have even more of a clear vision when you start to try and pursue that same goal again.’
When it comes to taking another look at a Super Bowl loss, Jackie can speak from experience. He was part of a Rams’ 31-19 loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, and said going back and watching it again (as painful as it might be) helped his development as a player — particularly, the insight on his game from analyst John Madden.
It certainly paid dividends for Jackie, who would go on to a 20-year career in the NFL and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
‘Experience is the very best teacher,’ Jackie said. ‘For me personally, after playing in Super Bowl XIV and having John Madden make the comments that he made about my performance — which were all positive ‘ that helped keep me driven and focused in an attempt to try and get back to the zenith of my profession.’
According to Matt, the goal going forward is to shake off any feeling that the 2012 Patriots are a Super Bowl team. The process of climbing the mountain toward the summit will begin again soon enough.
‘’I think it’s important for us as a team to understand: we’re not a Super Bowl team at this point. This is a new team. This is not the 2011 team,’ he said. ‘We shouldn’t come in there expecting for teams [to say] ‘Oh, that’s the Patriots. They were in the Super Bowl last year.’ We have to re-establish an identity. There are new players. We have to create an identity for this 2012 team. We’re going to have to earn everything all over again. So we’re back at ground zero now. We have a lot of work to do.’’
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