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Caught up in numbers

Receivers Slater, Tate hope to stick

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / September 2, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - The next two days won’t be easy on the nerves. Not with the NFL’s mandatory trim-down to a 53-man roster looming tomorrow. Not if you’re Matthew Slater and you’ve spent the entire preseason building your résumé. Not if you’re Brandon Tate and you’ve only had two games to plead your case.

It will be stressful just counting the circumstances. Maybe the Patriots will decide they need just six wide receivers, in which case they could spare either Slater or Tate.

Maybe they could hold seven on the roster - a lot - and they could both hang around.

Over the course of the next 48 hours, the maybes will add up.

“It’s always a nerve-racking time,’’ Slater said. “It’s a difficult time. You’ve been grinding with the guys for five weeks now and you build close bonds and you’re working towards the same goal of trying to be here during the season, so it’s a difficult situation.’’

Slater added another highlight to his preseason film reel last night, hauling in a 64-yard pass in the first quarter of the Patriots’ 18-17 loss to the New York Giants. It was another sign that, after digging in for three seasons on special teams, he’s opening up on offense. It was also another leg up in his battle to solidify a wide receiver spot.

“There are a lot of good players in that room on our team right now,’’ Slater said. “There are a lot of players that can play. Everybody can play or they wouldn’t be here. I guess this time of year is real tough for everybody.

“You just try to go out and do what you can and make plays and show the coaches that you can help the team win games. Hopefully I did enough of that this preseason to be around here next week.’’

Slater caught just five balls this preseason, but they went for 190 yards. Three of his catches have gone for at least 40 yards.

The pattern he ran last night was one of the team’s base routes, a crossing route, and he reaped the benefits of Chad Ochocinco and Deion Branch running razor sharp lines themselves.

Slater sits directly next to Tate in the locker room. They’ve developed the type of friendship over the past two seasons that has allowed them to learn from each other. But the crowded wide receiver spot means they’re competing for limited space. They both know the competition comes with the territory.

“Brandon’s a great guy,’’ Slater said. “He’s a good friend and a great teammate. I have a lot of respect for him and I feel like he has a lot of respect for me. We’re all competing for the same jobs, but, at the same time, we all have mutual respect for each other. We’re friends. Outside of football, life and going on we have quality friendships that will endure.’’

Tate was held out of the first two preseason games with hamstring issues. He made his preseason debut in Detroit. In two games, he caught three passes for 41 yards.

“The competition’s always going to be very high, especially with the guys that we brought in,’’ Tate said. “I think that all I can do is keep playing hard, and making plays and doing what the team needs me to do. I really can’t worry about it. I think there’s a plan for everything.’’

Though he’s made himself more of an offensive threat, Slater won’t shed the multipurpose role.

“The coaches always talk about the more you can do, the longer you’ll be around here,’’ Slater said.

“When I came here, I didn’t really have a position, but I just love football and I was willing to do whatever it took to stick around. That’s still my approach. I haven’t done anything. It’s just the preseason.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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