FOXBORO, Mass. — Some notes and nuggets from Tuesday’s New England Patriots media availability with special teams captain Matthew Slater:
— The Patriots picked up Slater’s contract option earlier this spring, all but ensuring he’ll return for a 12th season in New England.
“I was optimistic that I (would have) the opportunity to come back (and) certainly thankful that Coach (Bill) Belichick has enough faith in me as a player and as a leader to keep me around for another year,” Slater said. “But I still feel like I have to earn my position on this team. It’s no different than it’s been any other year. So I’m thankful for the opportunity to compete, thankful to still be a Patriot and excited for the new season.”
Having entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick in 2008, Slater is the third-longest tenured player on the Patriots’ roster behind quarterback Tom Brady and kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
“Man, God’s been good,” the 33-year-old gunner said. “He’s really blessed me, and I’m just so thankful to have played this long and been with such a great organization with great coaches, great leadership, great teammates. So I thank God every day for the opportunities that he’s blessed me with.”
— Speaking of Gostkowski, the Patriots re-signed their veteran kicker last week. They also re-upped punter Ryan Allen early in free agency, keeping their core specialist trio (along with long snapper Joe Cardona) intact.
“It’s exciting to have those guys back,” Slater said. “They mean a lot to what we do. They’ve been so consistent over the years. They have great chemistry together, so you think about having that operation with those guys intact, it’s really big. And I think we’re all excited to come out and hopefully have another productive year, but we know we have a lot of work to do.
“Certainly, it’s nice to have some familiarity, especially with those two guys in particular, but we have a lot of work to do.”
— Slater is thrilled to have special teams-focused running back Brandon Bolden back in the fold. Bolden returned to the Patriots in free agency after a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins.
“It’s been great,” Slater said. “I texted him right away when I saw that we had signed him back. That’s another guy who’s just been a really good friend over the years. I certainly don’t think I’m alone when I say that he was missed last year, his presence in the locker room. His personality is so unique, and we’re excited to have him back.”
Bolden should help the Patriots in kick and punt coverage, which were unexpected weak points for much of the 2018 season. The same goes for new safety Terrence Brooks, who led the NFL in special teams snaps played last season with the New York Jets.
“(Brooks is) fast and physical,” Slater said. “He plays the game the right way. He competes at very high level, and he gave teams — including ourselves — a lot of problems over the course of his career in New York. So (we’re) excited to get him into the fold as we all work toward the same goals this season. So it’ll be exciting.”
— After offering a heartfelt tribute to retired tight end Rob Gronkowski, Slater also gave his reaction to the departures of wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea and character coach Jack Easterby, with whom he worked closely.
“It’ll be tough,” Slater said. “Personally, I’m very appreciative to Chad. We spent 10 years together. He taught me how to compete for a role. And the way that he worked with me, with my situation being a little bit unique there in the receiver room, he always made me feel a part of the group, and he always coached me the same way he would anyone else. So I’m very appreciative of that, and I wish him nothing but the best.
“I’ve gone on record several times speaking about Jack and what he’s meant to me personally in my life away from the football field — how he’s impacted my marriage, how he’s impacted my faith, how he’s impacted the way that I view life in general — so I hope to maintain relationships with those guys. I wish them nothing but the best. But for the time being, I’m just excited to be here working with the guys here and trying to continue to have an impact here.”
O’Shea was one of several Patriots assistants who followed Brian Flores to Miami. Easterby left the Patriots after Super Bowl LIII and now is with the Houston Texans.
Thumbnail photo via Zack Cox/NESN.com