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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.”

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Read More: 2013 training camp, Bill Belichick, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots
Matthew Slater, Rob Ninkovich talk about impact of Marathon bombings 04.18.13 at 1:09 pm ET
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FOXBORO — During a break in offseason workouts at Gillette Stadium Thursday, Patriots linebacker/defensive end Rob Ninkovich and special teamer Matthew Slater talked extensively about the Marathon bombings on Monday and the impact they have had on the franchise.

Slater watched the events of Monday afternoon, and said he had the chance to address the team later in the week at the suggestion of coach Bill Belichick.

“I just want to let those people out there know, the people that were affected by that event that were injured, or had somebody they knew that was injured or killed or are still battling for their lives or had to witness that traumatic event, that we’re praying for them,” Slater said.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time where I’ve ever been more proud to be a part of this city, this region, with the way people have responded to that tragedy, and I’m just proud to be associated with the people of New England and the people of Boston.”

Slater said the tragedy was discussed this week in their team meeting.

“There are things in life more important than football, and this is one of those events that puts that in perspective,” Slater said. “I think we take so many things for granted. We expect to wake up, we expect to go about our day and be safe at the end of the day, but every day that we get up, anything can happen. So we need to count our blessings — every night that we get back home safely, that’s a blessing. Every morning that we wake up, that’s a blessing. I think that reminder has been sent through the locker room. We just need to value our friends, family and the time we have here on Earth.”

“Our thoughts and prayers of the team go out to everyone that have been affected by that. It’s just terrible,” Ninkovich said. “I was at home sitting with my wife. Watching it on TV is kind of just surreal — you don’t really think it’s going to happen, especially here in the city of Boston. Unfortunately, that’s just the world that we live in now. We have to deal with the terrible things that happen. Now, we have to support everyone that has been through that. That’s a good thing of being a football player. We can help people and do things to lift the spirits of those that have been affected.

“It’s unfortunate,” he added. “It’s scary, really, that those things happen in this world today. You can’t really put it into words, the way that affects people because, again, as a football player, you’re at an event where there’s a lot of people. You’ve got to put your trust in the security and the people around you that are doing their jobs in a stadium setting to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Several members of the Patriots have pledged financial support to provide relief for victims, including Vince Wilfork, Danny Amendola and Devin McCourty. Meanwhile, Slater and Ninkovich — who did not grow up in New England, but have made it their home since being acquired by the Patriots — marveled at the strength of the community in the wake of the disaster.

“I’€™ve been here five years now. You know the community of Boston is a tight community, and you know how the fans are about their teams,” Ninkovich said. “You go to a city where everyone’€™s so together, the love for one another, it’€™s kinda hard to put it ‘€¦ You feel it. When you’€™re in the stadium, you feel everyone’€™s around you in support. So when something so unfortunate happens to the city, it’€™s everyone’€™s nature to come together as a whole and have support for one another. As a team, we’€™re here to support and help the people that have been through this tragedy.”

“It just shows you what kind of city we have,” said Slater. “There are some strong people here.”

Read More: Matthew Slater, Rob Ninkovich,
Resetting Patriots depth chart at wide receiver 03.26.13 at 2:10 pm ET
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For the Patriots, the personnel changes at wide receiver this offseason are nothing new. Since he assumed the starting job in 2001, Tom Brady has gone through several different groups of receivers, and as the Patriots’€™ passing game continues to evolve, the 2013 incarnation will be the fifth different group that Brady will work with.

While other ancillary wide receivers came and went — and with the understanding that the Patriots have bolstered the depth at the tight end position as the depth at receiver has diminished — here’€™s the overall nucleus of the wide receiver position since Brady assumed the starting job in 2001.

2001-2004: Troy Brown, David Patten, David Givens, Deion Branch.
2005-2006: Branch, Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney.
2007-2009: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte’€™ Stallworth.
2010-2012: Wes Welker, Branch, Brandon Lloyd.

With the understanding that there’€™s still a lot of time in the team-building process between now and the start of training camp (between the end of free agency and the draft) here’€™s a look at depth chart at receiver for the Patriots, as well as some possibilities for New England at the receiver position between now and the start of the season.

Donald Jones: The 6-foot, 208-pound Jones is a Youngstown State product who spent three seasons in the league, all with the Bills, and has 82 career receptions. His best year came in 2012 when the 25-year-old caught 41 passes for 443 yards and four touchdowns.

Danny Amendola: The 27-year-old, who had a career-high 85 catches for St. Louis in 2010, has followed an eerily similar career arc as Welker, who blossomed when he first arrived in New England in 2007. The Patriots hope that the 5-foot-11, 188-pounder can continue on the same path that saw Welker — who was a little-used part of the Miami offense before he arrived in Foxboro — catch 100 passes in five of his six seasons with the Patriots.

(In addition, the Patriots depth chart also includes Kamar Aiken, Jeremy Ebert and Andre Holmes. Ebert was a seventh-round pick of the Patriots last season who spent some time on the practice squad, while Aiken ended the season on the practice squad and Holmes was added to the roster in January after spending part of the 2012 season with the Cowboys. And while Matthew Slater is technically listed as a wide receiver, he’€™s more of a special teamer.)

There remains a handful of free-agent possibilities for the Patriots, including four guys who have suited up for New England in the past and could be called upon once again:

Julian Edelman: A seventh-round pick out of Kent State in 2009, Edelman has shown flashes over his first four seasons in a New England uniform, including 37 catches as a rookie, and 21 receptions at the start of the 2012 season when he saw an uptick in playing time, mostly at the expense of Welker. Presuming he does return, the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder could pick up some of the targets that went to Welker over the last few seasons.

Brandon Lloyd: Lloyd was released earlier this month before the team was set to deliver a $3 million roster bonus. In his one season with the Patriots, Lloyd had 74 catches for 911 yards and four touchdowns. While he had some terrific moments — including eight catches against Arizona, nine against Baltimore and 10 against the Niners — he was underwhelming at times. However, it wouldn’€™t be a shock to see him ultimately return.

Deion Branch: Branch was able to give the Patriots some snaps last season, but was mostly around to help provide some depth at the position. He ended the season with 16 catches for 145 yards in 10 games for New England. Branch, who will be 34 before the start of the 2013 season, has to be considered a longshot to return, but it still wouldn’€™t be a surprise to see the 5-foot-9, 195-pounder back on an emergency basis if he was needed.

Donte’€™ Stallworth: Stallworth, who has had two different stints with the Patriots (including last year, which consisted of one catch, which ended up going 63 yards for a touchdown against the Texans before he went on season-ending IR), was involved in a hot-air balloon accident earlier this month in Florida. While he has spent some time in the hospital, if the 32-year-old is still able to play come the summer, it wouldn’€™t be a surprise if New England at least kicked the tires on Stallworth to see if he still had anything left in the tank.

And when it comes to free agent possibilities, it’€™s fair to include restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, who would cost the Patriots a third-round pick but still interests the New England brain trust for all the reasons we listed here. The 26-year-old Sanders, a third-round pick out of SMU in 2010 by the Steelers, caught 44 passes for 626 yards and one touchdown in 2012, starting seven games. In his three-year career, Sanders has 94 receptions for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns.

Read More: Andre Holmes, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Amendola, Donald Jones
Andrew Luck replaces Tom Brady on AFC Pro Bowl squad, Logan Mankins, Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork also out 01.21.13 at 7:38 pm ET
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Tom Brady is again politely declining a trip to Hawaii to play in the NFL’s greatest exhibition game.

Andrew Luck had one of the best seasons any rookie quarterback has ever had in living up to his No. 1 overall draft billing coming into the 2012 season.

On Monday, the Indianapolis Colts rookie was rewarded with a trip to Hawaii to replace Brady in the in the Pro Bowl. Brady was excused from the Pro Bowl with an undisclosed injury.

Brady was selected to his eighth Pro Bowl game in late December but hasn’t played the last six times he’s been selected. He played in Feb. 2002 after winning the Super Bowl and he played in Feb. 2005 after the 2004 season but hasn’t played since, as he has been designated as injured and has been replaced.

It appears Brady won’t be alone in turning down the leis in paradise. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports Wes Welker, Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork have also taken their names out of the Pro Bowl due to various injuries. Linebacker Jerod Mayo and special teams captain Matthew Slater were also selected but remain on the Pro Bowl roster.

As for Luck, through Week 9, Luck had thrown for the same number of yards as his predecessor, Peyton Manning, did in his first season in Denver.

His legend began to truly grow in Week 13 against the Lions. Luck and the Colts were trailing 33-28 with 1:07 left. He was able to get to the Lions’ 14 yard line and faced a fourth down with three seconds left. Luck then threw a screen pass to Donnie Avery who got free and ran in for the winning score.

The win gave Luck his eighth on the season – the most wins by a rookie quarterback drafted first overall in NFL history, as well as his fifth game-winning drive on the season, tying Vince Young and Ben Roethlisberger for the most by a rookie quarterback. On Dec. 23, 2012, Luck broke the record for most passing yards by a rookie against the Kansas City Chiefs, throwing 205 to bring his season total to 4,183. Cam Newton held the previous record with 4,051 yards.

Luck advanced the Colts, one season removed from 2-14, to the the playoffs, where they lost to the Ravens in Baltimore.

Read More: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts, Jerod Mayo, Logan Mankins
Bill Belichick puts Matthew Slater in a very special class 01.19.13 at 9:50 am ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick looks for leadership from his players in various ways. He looks for it on the practice field. He looks for it in the classroom and off the field.

He also looks for it when things don’t go well.

For the Patriots’ special teams unit, that would be last week. And Matthew Slater is the captain of that unit. Slater was seen yelling and getting after his team after allowing several big plays last week in the 41-28 win over the Texans. It was about the only area of the game that didn’t go as planned.

They allowed a 94-yard kickoff return to Danieal Manning to open the game and another big return in the second quarter as the Texans scored a touchdown that gave them new life and momentum to cut the lead to 17-13 at the half.

The way Slater has handled himself in the five years he’s been with the Patriots hasn’t gone unnoticed by Belichick. He was voted special teams captain last year and earned the honor again this year. Slater, says Belichick, is the perfect candidate to stabilize the unit on the field.

“Matt has done a great job for us,” Belichick said on Friday. “He’€™s taken that role’€¦in my time here I’€™ve been very fortunate to have two outstanding, I mean exemplary, players at leadership positions on special teams with Larry Izzo and Matt Slater. I thought that really when we had Larry that that was, there’€™d never be another one like that, that that was so rare and Matt’€™s different than Larry but I think in his own way equally effective. Matt’€™s really, he’€™s tremendous. His attitude, his work ethic, the example that he sets, the way he interacts with his teammates in a really good way.

“I don’€™t know that a player could do anymore than what he’€™s done for us in that role for the last several years, probably since after his second year. He’€™s embraced his role on the team, he’€™s been very good at it and he e makes other players around him better. I think that’€™s a great compliment to him and the job he does. He’€™s smart, he’€™s well prepared, he works hard, he has good skill, good talent, he’€™s tough, he’€™s a good playmaker for us. I could go on about him all day. We’€™re lucky to have him on this football team. He does a tremendous job for us.”

Slater’s attitude about putting the past in the past and keeping it there, after a game like last week, is exactly what Belichick is looking for. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Jacoby Jones
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski lead a Patriots parade of Pro Bowlers 12.26.12 at 7:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Another playoff season, another record-setting campaign of offense and another season of heavy Patriots representation on the AFC squad at the Pro Bowl. Now, all the Patriots want more is to politely decline the invites for the seven players because they’ll be getting ready for the Super Bowl, as was the case last season.

Quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, left guard Logan Mankins, inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, special teams captain Matthew Slater, wide receiver Wes Welker and nose tackle Vince Wilfork have been selected to represent the Patriots and the AFC in the 2013 Pro Bowl.

‘€œIt is flattering to be selected, but I have always considered Pro Bowl recognition as a reflection of the team’€™s overall success,” Brady said. “I am happy for my many teammates who were selected again this year. I know that there are many others who are equally deserving of the opportunity. One day, I am sure I will have a greater appreciation for individual accomplishments, but this week my focus is simply on our preparations for Miami.’€

Here is a sampling of other Pro Bowlers from Wednesday:

Wilfork: To be selected to my fifth Pro Bowl is amazing. I am honored and humbled. More importantly, I am proud that the other guys on my team are getting the recognition they deserve.

Mayo: It’€™s an honor to be recognized by my peers, the coaches and the fans, but it’€™s more of an honor to be one of seven of my teammates going to Hawaii, since that is a reflection of our overall team success. We’€™ll all enjoy the recognition tonight with our families and be right back to focusing on the Dolphins in the morning.

Slater: I am very thankful to be selected to the Pro Bowl. God has blessed me with this opportunity and the ability to stay healthy. I have a lot of people to thank. An honor like this does not come without your teammates next to you making plays. I want to thank coach Belichick for believing in me and taking a chance on me so I can live out my childhood dreams of playing in the NFL. Coach Scott O’€™Brien has pretty much changed my career with the way he teaches and coaches me. I also need to thank Joe Judge for what he has been able to teach me.

Mankins: We have a lot of guys who earned the honor this year, so that is pretty cool. It’€™s always nice to have your peers, coaches and fans select you to the Pro Bowl. Getting voted in is always a reflection of our team success. While I do appreciate this recognition, we need to get ready and keep our focus on the game this week against Miami.

No one on the Patriots has more experience accepting the honor than Brady. It is his eighth Pro Bowl selection (2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012). Mankins (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012), Welker (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) and Wilfork (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) are next at five apiece.

Gronkowski and Slater earned their second straight Pro Bowl invitations, while Mayo (2010 and 2012) also earned a Pro Bowl berth for the second time.

Gronkowski, Mankins, Mayo and Wilfork were selected as starters.

The Pro Bowl will be played on Jan. 27, 2013 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, and the Patriots are hoping they won’t be available for the game because the Super Bowl is one week later in New Orleans.

Brady was named to the Pro Bowl for the eighth time, including four straight seasons. John Hannah (9) is the only Patriots player with more Pro Bowls than Brady. Brady enters the final week of the season with 4,543 yards passing and 32 touchdowns. Brady became just the fifth player in NFL history to reach 4,000 yards in five or more seasons and the fifth player with at least 30 or more touchdown passes in four seasons. Brady needs one touchdown pass in the season finale vs. Miami to extend his streak to 48 straight games with at least one touchdown pass and move past Johnny Unitas (47) for the second longest streak behind Drew Brees (54). He will also become the first NFL player to throw at least one touchdown pass in all 16 games for three consecutive seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Jerod Mayo, Logan Mankins, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots
Fab Five: The most underrated Patriots 12.04.12 at 5:51 pm ET
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While the Patriots have their share of high-profile superstars, each man in the locker room will tell you that it takes 53 players — and sometimes more, when you add in the practice squadders — to make a team. To that end, here’€™s our pick for the five most underrated Patriots — the unheralded guys who don’€™t get the headlines like some of their counterparts, but who are just as integral to the success of the franchise on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.

Tight end Daniel Fells: The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder has assumed the same role that Alge Crumpler had in 2010 — an older tight end who has served as something of a steadying, veteran presence for younger Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And while he hasn’€™t had much of a statistical impact (he has three catches on nine targets for 77 yards this season), with the recent injury to Gronkowski, he has seen a sizable uptick in his playing time. He was on the field for 103 of a possible 151 snaps over the last two weeks, and while he didn’€™t have the same impact that Gronkowski has, he was essentially doing his job as an end of the line blocker. Most importantly, he was a consistent presence on the field during New England’€™s 16-play series in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, the best offensive sequence of the season for the Patriots.

Running back Danny Woodhead: Woodhead appears so often on these types of underrated lists, he might actually be perfectly rated, but there are few more versatile options in the New England offense. He’€™s the only guy on the team with at least 25 carries and 25 receptions — he has 58 rushes and 26 catches through 12 games. (The last Patriots player to go over 25/25 in the same year was Kevin Faulk in 2009 — he finished that year with 62 carries and 37 receptions.) He’€™s also the most dependable receiver on the team — he has 26 catches on 32 targets, and his 81 percent reception rate is the best on the team among pass catchers with at least 10 receptions. He’€™s seen a recent downturn in snaps (particularly with the recent emergence of Shane Vereen as an option in the passing game), but he remains a steady third-down option. In the wake of the injury to Julian Edelman, the 5-foot-8, 200-pounder could see more action as the regular-season comes to a close.

Center Ryan Wendell: A part-time interior offensive lineman over the course of his first three seasons with the Patriots, the undrafted free agent out of Fresno State stepped into a starting role for the first time this year and has become one of New England’€™s most dependable offensive linemen. Taking over for veteran Dan Koppen (who was released shortly before the start of the regular season), Wendell has been the centerpiece of one of the best offensive lines in football. Pro Football Focus says the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder is one of the best centers in the league — his grade of +16.2 when it comes to run blocking is best in the league, and his overall grade of +14.4 through the first 12 games of the season is third on the New England offense (he trails only Tom Brady and Gronkowski). In addition, on an offensive line that’€™s seen it’€™s share of injury, Wendell has held up very nicely. His 924 offensive snaps this season is second on the offense to left tackle Nate Solder (927).

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Daniel Fells, Danny Woodhead, Matthew Slater, Ryan Mallett
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