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Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater appeared on Bob Socci’s NFL Draft Preview Show on Sunday to discuss the Patriots offseason and much more.READ MORE: North End Fitness Center Joins List Of Businesses Requiring Staff, Customers To Be Vaccinated
Earlier this offseason, the Patriots declined to pick up the option of veteran defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, and Wilfork ended up signing with the Houston Texans. Although it was tough for the Patriots roster to swallow, Slater says that it’s part of the game.
“When it comes to Vince, I certainly don’t think that you can replace number 75. Not only for his play on the field, but who he was and who he is as a man and as a leader,” Slater said. “My whole career, number 75 has been in that locker room and when I’ve had different things come up over the years I’ve been able to go to him and seek counsel. It’s definitely one of the toughest parts of this game is guys coming and going. We’d all love to play forever and all love to play here forever, but the reality is we’re all on the clock and the time that we have here is precious.”
Slater added: “As I said, we can’t replace him. It’s going to take a group effort, a lot of guys stepping up to fill that void. I’m sure that coach Belichick will do the best that he can, as he always does, in preparing guys to step up and executing their role on and off the field.”
Looking back on his own draft experience coming out of UCLA as a defensive back and wide receiver, Slater worked out for a number of teams but never had a visit with the Patriots lined up. Slater was shocked Belichick called him.
“I think I took seven pre-draft visits and had talked to a number of coaches and scouts from different organizations but didn’t hear a peep from the Patriots,” Slater said. “They were definitely not on my radar and even if I were to go undrafted and think about signing somewhere as a free agent, the Patriots weren’t on my radar because I had no contact with them.”
In his first season in New England, Slater knew he had to be willing to change positions in order to stay on the roster.
“The first conversation we had, [Belichick] said, ‘You’re going to help us in the kicking game and we’ll find you a position.’ I knew that any chance I had of sticking around in New England, I was going to have to excel in the kicking game and be willing to play receiver, safety and whatever may be that they needed me to fill in just to step up and try to do the best I could,” Slater said. “He made it very clear what my role was going to be on that first phone call.”READ MORE: Newbury Street To Have 3 Car-Free Days In August
“Belichick understands the importance of special teams. I think if you look at this past season, a number of games we were able to win because of the plays that we made on special teams, whether it was Julian Edelman returning the ball, [Danny] Amendola returning the ball, or Brandon Bolden blocking a punt. We were able to manufacture a lot of plays in that area of the game. This organization really values that. Because of that emphasis we put on the kicking game, we’ve been able to have great success not only in that unit but as a team. Coach really believes all three phases are important to winning games.”
Playing for this Patriots organization, Slater says that players have to be willing to change in New England in order to elevate their game.
“Coach makes it very clear that everybody can’t be a Tom Brady or, when I came in, a Randy Moss, Rob Gronkowski who’s catching a bunch of balls. You have to have role players on the team if you want to have a good football team. Every individual has a different role. If everybody can be a star in their role, then you can have a chance to have a special football team,” Slater told Socci.
“I think that message is preached from day one when guys step in the building,” he added. “As veterans on the team, we try to get the young guys to understand that, ‘Look, maybe in college you were a three-time All American and three-time All Conference. Here though, we have to do whatever it takes to ensure success to this football team as a whole.’ The culture is already in place when you get here. It’s either you buy into it or you will not be around here long. I know when I came here, you had guys like Larry Izzo, Sammy Morris, Sam Aiken, and that culture was already in place. As a young guy, you just try to get on board with it.”
Looking ahead to the 2015 NFL Draft, Slater hopes the new guys who join the team are unselfish.
“We’re looking for guys who are going to be selfless. It’s important to us that we have guys that are going to put the team ahead of their own personal goals and personal success and they’re going to be willing to come in every day, work hard and put their ego aside and do whatever it takes to win at the end of the day,” Slater said. “That’s really what you look for in a veteran. A guy who you know is going to be committed to making himself better, in which in turn will make the team better. If he does that, he’s not going to have any problem with the guys in this locker room.”
Listen below for full interview:MORE NEWS: Your 4 Community: Cradles To Crayons
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