FOXBORO, Mass. — After making his 2018 training camp debut Thursday morning, Matthew Slater took a moment to reflect on his remarkable New England Patriots career.
“Man, it’s really hard to put into words how quickly it’s gone by,” said Slater, who is preparing for his 11th season in New England. “I feel like just yesterday I was in that field house doing rookie minicamp, trying to figure out where I was, didn’t know what was going on. And here it is — Year 11.
“I feel very fortunate, very blessed, but when you think about the lifespan of an NFL player and a career, it’s very short. Time goes by very quickly, so you’ve got to try to cherish it and make the most of it.”
Slater, who said he was “trying to make a practice squad” after being drafted in the fifth round in 2008, certainly has made the most of his time in New England. He’s one of the most decorated special teams players in NFL history, earning seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections (2011 to 2017) and four first-team All-Pro nods, not to mention his two Super Bowl rings.
“I didn’t know what my future would be in this league, and I’m very grateful for everything I’ve been able to accomplish here,” the 32-year-old said.
Despite Slater’s elite special teams prowess, he is fortunate to have played his entire career for a coach like Bill Belichick, who reveres the kicking game. Perhaps another team wouldn’t have held on this long to a wide receiver who’s caught just one pass in his 10-year career, regardless of how good he is at covering kicks.
The notion that special teams jobs are more tenuous than those on offense or defense continues to motivate Slater, who insisted he’s not guaranteed a roster spot despite his new two-year contract and long-held status as a Patriots captain.
“Every year I’ve been here, I’ve had to compete for a job, especially with my role, what it is on the team,” he said. “The lifespan of players like myself is usually not a very long one.”
Yet Slater is still here. And he doesn’t feel like he’s nearing the end just yet. He doesn’t plan on playing 20 seasons like his father, Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater, did, but he believes he still has some good football left in him.
“I mean, it’s no mystery a guy in Year 11 is not a spring chicken, but I still love the game,” he said. “I still love to compete. I still feel like I have a lot to give. So I’m going to just keep taking that mindset on every day.”
Slater began training camp on the physically unable to perform list and missed the first six practices. He returned to the field Thursday, one week before the Patriots’ preseason opener against the Washington Redskins.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images