Re: Is Slater the key to the game?
posted at 1/19/2013 5:39 PM EST
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. AndMatthew 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.
“We’ve put that behind us,” Slater said of the two big returns by the Texans. “Once we got in here and watched the tape, we understand we didn’t perform the way we wanted to. We are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to go out and get that fixed. There’s no time to hang our head now going against arguably the best returner in the league after the year he had this year and a good special teams unit all around. We’ve been working hard to correct the issues that we had and hopefully we’ve got them fixed and we can go out and perform well on Sunday.”
This week, the special teams unit has no choice but to focus on this week with the dangerous Jacoby Jones and Ravens up next on Sunday. Jones not only caught the 70-yard game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation against the Broncos, he is one of the most explosive kick returners in the game. He had two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season and one punt return for a TD. He returned 38 kicks this season and averaged 30.7 yards.
“Obviously his speed, he’s got tremendous speed. Jacoby’s actually a taller, bigger guy for a returner,” Slater said. “He breaks a lot of tackles. He has a great feel for their scheme and what they’re trying to do. He runs hard, there’s no hesitation, when he sees something he goes. He’s very aggressive. He takes chances but they pay off. He does a lot of things well. He handles things well; handles situations great. We’ll have our hands full trying to cover him.
“The guys have been working hard all week to kind of give us a look at him. But I think a guy like that, he’s so unique that it’s hard to really know what it’s going to be like until we get in the game. We’ve watched a ton of film on him and the guys on the scout team have done a good job of giving us a good look. Like I said, Jacoby, his skill set is really unique. I don’t really think there’s a returner in the league with his physical presence because he’s such a big guy and the speed that he has. It’s tough to simulate but hopefully we’re getting a good look at it in practice and we’ll be ready on Sunday.”