FOXBOROUGH - Patriots receiver Matthew Slater patiently answered questions last week about teammate Julian Edelman’s versatility as a receiver and cornerback.
All the while, Slater was preparing to play safety for the first time in his career, yesterday against the Colts.
Not only did Slater play, he started and played the most snaps of his four-year career. He also forced a fumble in the third quarter that set up a touchdown, and finished with seven tackles.
“I’ve known since I’ve been here just to be ready to do whatever they ask me to do,’’ Slater said. “They approached me with it this week. I know I’m a role player on this team and whatever role they need me to do, that’s what I’m going to do.’’
Coach Bill Belichick is getting more creative with a defense that has been inconsistent this season. He slipped Edelman in at cornerback against the Chiefs and Eagles. Yesterday, he added Slater to the starting lineup in place of Patrick Chung, who was out with a foot injury. Meanwhile, Nate Jones, who was signed only last week, also started. And linebacker Niko Koutouvides also picked up his first start with the Patriots.
“We tried to put the best people out there we could to be competitive,’’ said Belichick. “It’s the same thing we do every week.’’
Despite the number of personnel changes, communication within the defense hasn’t been an issue, according to linebacker Jerod Mayo.
“We have that next-man-up attitude,’’ Mayo said. “Those guys have done an excellent job filling in and being attentive in meetings and things like that, and when they came out on the field they did a good job.’’
Slater said he relied on his teammates to help him prepare. He even got some advice from Edelman, who is Slater’s roommate.
Jones also found himself having to learn quickly when he was signed as a free agent Wednesday. Jones is in his eighth season and was drafted by Dallas in the seventh round out of Rutgers in 2004. While with the Cowboys, Jones said he flourished under the guidance of then-coach Bill Parcells. That experience helped Jones settle in with the Patriots.
“Parcells definitely groomed me a certain way when I was a young player. He and Belichick did work together, so there are some similarities there,’’ said Jones who had nine tackles. “But Belichick has been in the league a while and he definitely has his own style and way of coaching and bottom line, they like tough guys, humble, go out there and play. That’s always what it is. It’s not about individual, it’s about the team. So, I get that. I know what that’s like, and that does make it a little easier because I’ve played for coaches who preached the same thing.
“But bottom line, you still have to come in here and learn scheme, learn the team, learn how they want things done around here. So, I’m getting acclimated.’’
The defense put together a string of positive performances early, but that was soured by a poor fourth quarter, in which the Colts scored 21 points.
Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who made his first start since 2008, completed 18 of 20 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. He finished 30 of 37 for 353 yards, with one interception and the two TDs.
“We started off fast, but we just couldn’t finish the game,’’ Mayo said. “Those guys fought back and executed at the end of the game. We have to learn to put two halves together, and hopefully we’ll do that next week.’’
The Patriots may not be finished trying out players at different positions as they prepare for Sunday’s game against the Redskins.
If Slater is called upon, he said he will be ready, but he planned on cherishing his opportunities yesterday.
“It was a lot of football,’’ Slater said. “I’m going to sleep well tonight.’’Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.