FOXBORO -- For the first time during training camp, Matthew Slater was present, in full pads, and participating at Patriots practice.
The change in status for the team's special teams ace means that he has been activated off of the PUP list.
Slater was not seen in any of the OTA or minicamp sessions open to the media and he reportedly missed all 13 spring practices that the Patriots held at Gillette Stadium. The ailment that caused his absence is not known.
"Oh, it’s a joy to be back out there with my teammates," he said. "Just real thankful to be back out there and back to football and having fun again. It’s very tough, very tough, very frustrating and a lot of emotions that come along with that, but I just thank God for bringing me to this point and allowing me to get back on the field today."
Slater, a captain since the 2011 season, was welcomed back to the field warmly by his teammates and could be seen cheerfully exchanging pleasantries with Tom Brady in between practice periods. He was not a full participant in the session, but he did some special teams work as well as plenty of conditioning.
Working with a coach, and then later against two teammates (one holding a pad), Slater focused on getting good releases off the line of scrimmage to mimic what he would do during Patriots punts. The three-time Pro Bowler is considered one of the best punt team "gunners" in the NFL. He's also been a valuable member of New England's kickoff and kickoff return teams.