FOXBOROUGH - In the 2011 season, Matthew Slater played 44 snaps on offense, a surprising 111 on defense (including three starts at safety), and rarely came off the field on special teams.
And in March, the Patriots rewarded Slater’s flexibility and leadership with a three-year contract.
Slater, a 2008 fifth-round draft pick, and the Patriots moved fairly quickly to come to an agreement that will keep the cocaptain, who was named to his first Pro Bowl last season, in Foxborough.
“Well, my heart was here all along,’’ said Slater, 26. “I wanted to be here. I was just happy they felt the same way about me and they wanted me back.
“For me, it was a no-brainer. I’m just very thankful they wanted me back here and they’ve given me an opportunity to continue my career here, just as they did four years ago. They gave me an opportunity to keep playing football when maybe not a lot of people would have.’’
A spiritual man who has become a leader in the locker room for his unselfish approach, Slater led the team with 17 special-teams tackles, and also pulled in his first career reception in the season opener against Miami. Later in the season, he started seeing time in the defensive backfield.
He was asked if all of those responsibilities mean he has even more to focus on during the offseason.
“I think I have to prepare as I’ve always prepared,’’ he said, “and that’s to be ready to do whatever is asked of me when my number’s called. So I’ll train the same way I’ve always trained, if not harder. Because I know that the competition is out there and I have to go out there and prove myself year in and year out, and last year was last year, so I know I have to come in and work hard.
“If they ask me to play safety, put my hand in the ground, whatever it is, I’m going to be ready to do it.’’
The one thing he may not have been ready to do was watch a replay of the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. But his father, Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie, made Slater watch it. He doesn’t quite know exactly why - perhaps to give him some perspective.
“It was tough to watch it; we got so close,’’ Slater said. “We were winning with four minutes left in the game. You could taste victory.
“A lot of effort and heart and soul was put into that game, to get to that point. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out. But we can’t dwell on that.’’
Still, Slater admits, he dreams about the Super Bowl. But when he wakes up, the Patriots have won.
Ever the team leader, Slater said it’s time for New England to turn the page.
“Unfortunately things didn’t work out for us the way that we wanted,’’ he said. “But I think we had a great season. I think we should be proud of what we accomplished.
“We’ll look back on that at the end of our careers and be thankful for that experience. But now we’re just focusing on the year 2012 and getting better and trying to put ourselves in position to get back to that point.
“I think it’s important for us as a team to understand, we’re not a Super Bowl team at this point. This is a new team. This is not the 2011 team.
“We shouldn’t come in there expecting for teams [to say], ‘Oh, that’s the Patriots. They were in the Super Bowl last year.’
“There’s new players. We have to create an identity for this 2012 team. We’re going to have to earn everything all over again. So we’re back at ground zero now.’’
The Patriots’ offseason program can officially begin Monday.