FOXBORO, Mass. — Matthew Slater didn’t have an issue with the hit that left Kristian Wilkerson laid out on the New England Patriots’ practice field.
It was the aftermath that angered him.
Early in the second of two joint practices between the Patriots and Panthers, Carolina defensive back Kenny Robinson leveled Wilkerson on a kickoff, then celebrated while the wide receiver lay injured beneath him.
That sparked a strong response from the Patriots’ sideline, with Slater and special teams coordinator Cam Achord among those animatedly voicing their displeasure with Robinson’s actions.
Wilkerson remained down on the field for several minutes before being carted to the locker room. Slater said the third-year pro later was taken away for off-site medical evaluation.
“When you see a teammate down on the field — I’ve been around this game for a long time, and I think anybody that plays at this level understands when a guy is out,” the Patriots’ longtime special teams captain said after Wednesday’s practice. “They know what that looks like, and I don’t think that’s the time to celebrate. I really don’t. Look, I don’t have a problem with the hit. I didn’t see it, but I think it was clean, from my understanding.
“But I don’t think we should ever celebrate when someone is down and clearly in a dire situation. I personally take issue with that — any one of my teammates. And I don’t want us doing it on the flip side of that if somebody else is down with clear signs and symptoms of a significant injury. So that was my issue with it, and that’s why I responded strongly the way I did.”
The scuffle was the precursor to a much larger fight that broke out one play later, after Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise decked star Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey on the opening rep of 11-on-11 drills. That brawl spilled over into the fan bleachers and resulted in ejections for Wise and Carolina running back Chuba Hubbard.
Robinson also was tossed as punishment for his taunting of Wilkerson, according to head coach Matt Rhule. Robinson and Wilkerson both had been ejected from Tuesday’s joint practice for fighting, as had Kendrick Bourne, James Ferentz and Panthers defensive tackle Phil Hoskins.
“I didn’t even realize that,” Slater said of the prior scrap between Wilkerson and Robinson. “… Look, we’re professional enough to know that if something transpires one day, you can’t then bring it to the next day. I know Kristian would never do that. I can’t speak for those guys; I’m not in that locker room. But that’s certainly not how we do things.”
Wilkerson, who’s been with the Patriots since early in the 2020 season, is looking to earn a roster spot in New England’s crowded receiving corps. The 25-year-old was the team’s leading receiver in last week’s preseason opener, catching eight passes on 12 targets for 99 yards in a loss to the New York Giants.
Slater reiterated that he did not believe the hit that injured Wilkerson was dirty.
“I take an issue with (Robinson celebrating), and I don’t have a problem saying that,” he said. “That’s an issue. I don’t care if it’s in a game situation or certainly in a practice situation, that’s not OK. … When you see a guy down the way Kristian was down and you see guys responding the way certain guys were responding — I’ve been in this game a long time. That’s not how you do it.”
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