scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Patriots’ Matthew Slater happy to be back

Whatever kept him sidelined certainly didn’t affect his speed.

Matt Slater(16) wore a non-contact red jersey Monday but it didn’t keep him from showing off his speed. Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — As his teammates grunted and grinded through the first nine practices of Patriots training camp, Matthew Slater could mostly only watch, able to run but not given clearance to participate.

Some joked with Slater that he was enjoying an extended vacation — and joking or not, the eighth-year veteran didn’t like the feeling of being sidelined.

“It’s not an easy pill to swallow when you’re standing around and you see guys working hard, putting the necessary work in, and I feel like it’s hard to lead when you’re not out there doing it,” Slater said. “So it’s definitely been a trying time for me but it’s part of the process and I can only control what I can control from day to day and try to get myself healthy and back on the football field.”


That changed on Monday, when the special teams star made his training camp debut. The four-time Pro Bowler knew on Sunday that he would be getting back on the field on Monday, and was elated.

“I was excited. I don’t think I slept very much last night,’’ Slater said. “It was good to get out there, do some stuff with [special teams coaches] Joe [Judge] and Ray [Ventrone] and get back into wearing pads and running around, so it was good.”

Slater was in full pads, like most of the Patriots, but he was wearing a red non-contact jersey (it’s unknown what kept him sidelined). While he was happy to take the first step of returning to practice, he was a little frustrated to be in the special jersey, joking, “red means stop. Not something I’m used to doing.”

“But the medical staff, they know what’s best for me, so I just have to listen to the doctor’s orders and take it one day at a time,” he said, adding that he knows he has to walk the line between pushing too hard and listening to the trainers. “I think it’s my job to just be obedient and listen to the staff. They have a plan, they’ve done this before, so I’m just trying to do everything that they want to have me do.


“I’m going to do everything I can to get myself out there and participate but I think I’ve learned, going into my eighth year, the medical staff usually knows more than the players. They’ve been to school for that, so I’m just going to listen to what they have to tell me.”

Whatever kept him off the field for so long, it didn’t affect Slater’s speed. Arguably the fastest player on the roster, his quickness was on display during a drill with Judge and Ventrone, bending to pick up a tennis ball off the grass as he sprinted around a large hoop.

Slater finished 2014 with a team-high 14 special teams tackles, the fourth time in his career he’s led New England in that category. He was also selected an All-NFL player by the Pro Football Writers Association as the league’s best special teamer.

Even with seven full seasons under his belt and a reputation as one of the best in the game at what he does, Slater still believes he’s behind after missing the time and remains fully appreciative of his job.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of guys and they’ve been teasing me, telling me I’ve been on vacation, but there’s something about playing the game of football, being in your shoulder pads and helmet and being out there with your teammates, that nothing can simulate that,” he said. “Working out on the side or whatever it is that they have me doing from day to day, it’s just not the same as playing football.”


He’s also relishing the chance to once again work with Ventrone, who was in his final season as a Patriots player when Slater was a rookie. Ventrone went on to play four seasons in Cleveland and his final two with San Francisco before retiring. He was hired by New England as an assistant special teams coach.

“[As a former player] I think his perspective is a little bit different,” Slater said. “You talk about game experience and being in different situations, I think he can teach us a lot because of those experiences, and that’s not to say that a coach who hasn’t done it can’t teach you a lot, but I think Ray is unique in that he’s had those game experiences.

“Ray gave me a lot of confidence early on in my career just telling me to keep working, telling me to keep believing in myself, and Ray believed that I was going to be a good player before I did. It’s certainly nice to have him back around and have his ear from day to day.”

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.