FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots wide receiver and special teams extraordinaire Matthew Slater returned to practice this week after missing a full month with a calf injury, and he only has a few days to prove he belongs on the 53-man roster.
Slater participated in the very first practice of training camp but hadn’t been spotted in pads again until Monday. However, it sounds like Slater began practicing Sunday during a session that was closed to the media.
"It is a blessing to be back out here," Slater said. "I don’t take anything for granted, especially after being out as long as I was. I'm just thankful for the opportunity to be back out here again."
Now, the 2008 fifth-round draft pick has to put in a good week of work to impress the coaching staff. All NFL teams must be down to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday, which means Slater will have three practices, one walkthrough and one preseason game to show he can still be an asset to the team.
Yet, after missing a month, four otherworldly performances this week might not be enough. Slater admitted he's been thinking about the importance of this week.
"I guess I'd be lying to you if I said no," Slater said. "That is a part of the game, and it's tough because the guys are out here grinding all training camp. Everybody wants to be a part of this football team — every man, all 80 guys. They work hard. They bust their butt all offseason. They come out here all training camp and work hard. It can be disappointing if things don’t work out the way you want them to, but sometimes, things are out of your control."
Slater was in this spot a year ago, when he suffered a preseason injury that limited his on-field reps. Even after being considered a long shot to make the roster, he made the squad and had a role as one of the Patriots' top special teamers.
The question the coaching staff will answer is whether Slater's past performance has been enough to solidify his spot on the roster when the Patriots have others who can fill a similar role, such as wide receiver Sam Aiken, safety Patrick Chung, cornerback Devin McCourty, cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Sergio Brown.
Slater said one of the toughest parts about the missed time, which sources said were due to a calf injury, was that it derailed the progress he was making this offseason. He was going to be on the roster bubble either way, but he was making a lot of good plays at wide receiver during organized team activities and minicamp.
Over the next few days, Slater will find out how much all of that was worth in the eyes of the coaches.
"It was a little bit disappointing," Slater said of the injury. "You want to obviously build, and training camp is a time to build with your teammates, build chemistry, go out and work and compete and continue to get better. It was a little bit frustrating to be out. Nobody wants to be out sitting in the training room. I definitely don’t. Some things you can't control, and all I can control is what I can control, and that’s my actions and my attitude."