Chris Forsberg/ESPN Boston
Matthew Slater talks to reporters at Gillette Stadium.FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Matthew Slater has had numerous titles in his NFL career: Wide receiver, safety, and special teams maven. So he smiled when a reporter suggested another on Wednesday: Veteran.
"It’s a blessing to be called a veteran," said Slater, set to enter his fourth pro season after being drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round (153rd overall) of the 2008 draft. "I never thought I’d be called a veteran, but I guess I am."
Slater still remembers his first days in New England and chuckled while recalling how two hulking playbooks -- one for the offense, the other for defense -- were dropped in his lap. While splitting time with the receivers and safeties early in his career, he carried both around, all while his focus was on special teams. He's thankful to be working with only the receivers now, but said he remains willing to tackle any role the team wants.
"That’s really not up to me; Whatever the coaches want me to do, whatever they ask of me, that’s what I’m willing to do," said Slater. "Like I’ve said since Day 1, I’m just here to do a job, and that job is what the coaches ask me to do. If that means putting my hand on the ground and playing offensive line, that’s what I'm going to try to do. I’m just excited about the opportunity to help this team win games."
Slater knows his focus will remain on special teams, where he recorded a team-high 21 tackles last season. And heading into Monday's season-opener in Miami, he figures that role will be even more important after the Dolphins added Reggie Bush this offseason.
"I’ve seen a lot of him, probably too much of him over the years, growing up and then playing against him in college," said Slater, who grew up 90 miles apart from Bush in Southern California. The two were college rivals with Slater at UCLA and Bush at USC. "But he's a great player. We gotta be ready for him, definitely in the kicking game. Obviously, what he can do as returner, he’s a dynamic player. We gotta be prepared for him."
Slater relishes the special teams role and said it's not as simple as just putting 11 guys on the field for cover teams.
"It's a little more complex than you would think," said Slater. "It’s organized chaos out there. There’s a lot of scheme to it. [Patriots special teams coach] Scott O’Brien does a great job of preparing us for our opponent each week and there’s so many dynamic returners and players in this league, you have to be on your game week in and week out."