Jamal Perry really should have known better.
The Dolphins reserve cornerback was a onetime Patriot — when he was known as Jomal Wiltz — so he had to have been well-versed in the wizardry of Matthew Slater.
Yet there was Perry, squatting in front of the Patriots gunner with what felt like a “let’s see what you’ve got” posture, as Jake Bailey lined up for his second punt Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
At the snap, Slater turnstyled Perry as if the latter was wearing lead-lined cleats, and sprinted downfield. Perry gave up pursuit after a few yards, knowing it would be impossible to keep up with the fleet-footed Slater.
As Bailey’s high ball spiraled down, Slater tiptoed inches from the goal line, cradled the ball basket-style for a nanosecond, and dished the pigskin to the ground, where fellow gunner Justin Bethel collected it as Slater’s momentum carried him into the end zone.
It was the kind of elite play that has become the hallmark of Slater’s 13-year career. The perennial captain was named to his ninth Pro Bowl this week.
“It’s got to be at the top,’’ Bill Belichick said Tuesday when asked about Slater’s place in NFL special teams lore. “I can’t think of anybody that’s done more than he has and that’s done it over a very consistent period of time at an extremely high level, in addition to all the other qualities that he brings off the field — leadership, just doing the right thing, just the person and human being that he is. But his competitiveness on the field, he’s a great teammate — just outstanding in all areas.’’
Slater has led the Patriots in special teams tackles seven times and has five this season. Remarkable, considering he was drafted as a fifth-round wide receiver and didn’t really learn proper tackling techniques until he arrived in Foxborough.
Though still listed as a receiver on the roster — Slater has one career catch for 46 yards — it’s clear where he’s made his mark on this franchise and in this league.
“It would be hard for me to imagine anybody going ahead of him,’’ said Belichick, who spent eight of his first nine NFL seasons coaching special teams in Detroit, Denver, and New York, and whose teams have always been sound in the kicking game. “We’ve had some great players here and I’ve had some great players through my career — in Cleveland, going back to the Giants, but he’s certainly the very best that I’ve ever been around and that we’ve had to play against, as well. His consistency is outstanding, he factors in on a lot of plays.’’
Quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch has interviewed for the head coaching job at the University of Arizona, according to multiple reports, including wildcatauthority.com and the Arizona Daily Star.
Fisch has a college coaching and Pac-12 background, spending 2016-17 at UCLA, where he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and also served as interim head coach when Jim Mora Jr. was fired, going 1-1. According to the Star, Fisch is considered a “legitimate contender” along with San Jose State coach Brent Brennan.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had surgery Tuesday to repair the quadriceps injury he suffered against the Dolphins, a league source confirmed. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year is done for the season but is expected to be able to participate in some aspects of the offseason program. Gilmore is under contract through 2021 season at a cap hit of approximately $17 million … Despite winning the fan vote, center David Andrews was snubbed for a Pro Bowl selection. Belichick noted Tuesday that Andrews, who missed last season because of blood clots in his lungs, is one of the club’s “most dedicated and unselfish players.’’ The coach said Andrews remained a constant presence during his year on injured reserve. “He was in every meeting, he was at every practice, at the games — obviously the home games because he couldn’t travel — but was really a part of everything we did and added a lot even though he was unable to play. So, I think that really speaks to his unselfishness and commitment to the team. He does an awesome job.’’ … While he had no direct connection to him, Belichick was saddened to hear of the death of Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene. The coach remembered planning for the Steelers great when he coached the Browns. “We saw a lot of him when I was in Cleveland, and some of it was in our backfield,’’ Belichick said. “He had a lot of power off the edge and that was impressive.’’