The Patriots began their offseason conditioning program Monday, and on Thursday two of the team’s veteran players, Rob Ninkovich and Matthew Slater, took a few minutes to chat with reporters.
Some players, including Slater, were still at Gillette Stadium when news of the Boston Marathon bombings began to circulate. Before he was asked a question, Slater gave an eloquent statement about the tragedy.
“Before we get started, I want to acknowledge the events that happened on Monday,” said Slater. “It really puts things in perspective. It really puts a value on life, and really lets you know there are bigger things than football. 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.
“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.”
He echoed the thoughts of many over the last few days — that nearly everyone who lives in or around Boston has been to that part of Boylston Street.
“It was so close to home,” said Slater. “The area that was bombed, you’ve been there, we’ve all been there. Though I don’t know anybody directly affected, I think we’re all affected.”
On Tuesday, coach Bill Belichick asked Slater to speak during a team meeting.
“It was a time for us to put life into perspective,” said Slater. “We take so much for granted, especially us. We’re very blessed to do what we do, and I don’t say we live a life of privilege, but we do.”
Ninkovich was at home watching television with his wife when tragedy struck.
“It was surreal,” he said. “You don’t think it could happen here in Boston, but unfortunately this is the world we live in.
“As football players, we’re in a position where we can help lift spirits.”
Ninkovich has been with the Patriots for five years, so he feels as though he is part of the area, and he called Boston “a tight community.”
On football matters, Ninkovich said it’s a plus that the Patriots defense is largely intact from last season, with young guys who got their first snaps having a little experience to fall back on. Experience and communication are key, he said.
Slater lauded the signing of kick returner Leon Washington.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Leon has done,” said Slater. “He’s been one of the elite returners the league has ever seen. He’s a weapon in that department. That phase of the game was something we needed to improve upon.”
Starting the conditioning program this week is just the first of many steps in preparation for the season, Slater said.
“It’s day by day now,” he said. “You’re trying to improve physically and mentally. It’s good to be back with my teammates. That camaraderie kicks in almost right away.”
But it starts with conditioning, OTAs, mini-camp and then training camp.
“We’re a long ways away from putting a team on the field that’s going to compete,” Slater said.