FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Those in attendance at the first practice of New England Patriots training camp on Thursday could have easily been confused when they looked on the field and saw a new offensive player wearing No. 43.
But as it turns out, it was a familiar face: special-teams captain Matthew Slater.
Normally No. 18, Slater pulled a switch to honor fellow special-teams standout Nate Ebner, who is currently with the United States Olympic rugby team.
"I have a lot of respect for that guy. I wanted to show him a little love today," a smiling Slater said after practice. "This is supporting him as he chases his dream."
Photo: Special teams captain Matthew Slater dons No. 43 in honor of Nate Ebner, who is with US Olympic rugby team. pic.twitter.com/5XAXTKBJk2— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) July 28, 2016
Slater said Ebner "might be a little surprised," as it was something he had kept under the radar. Slater hadn't even told coach Bill Belichick about it, although Belichick seemed to get a kick out of Slater's gesture (as did Ebner, who "liked" a picture of it on Twitter).
Slater had approached equipment manager Dave Schoenfeld a few days ago, asking if it would be possible to get a white practice jersey with the No. 43. As a defender, Ebner's practice jersey is usually blue, whereas Slater -- who for the purposes of practice is also a receiver -- usually practices in white.
Schoenfeld delivered, and in turn Slater delivered one of the feel-good stories of the first day of camp.