FOXBORO -- It's difficult to explain what Matthew Slater means to the Patriots.
Though the roster designates him as a wide receiver, one look at his career stats -- one catch in six seasons -- tells you that's not why New England values him.
Slater, gunner on the punt team, was first voted special teams captain by his teammates in 2011. That season also marked his first of three Pro Bowl, and two All Pro, selections.
But while those notes seem more telling, they still don't paint the proper picture. What does? The fact this uncommonly polite, respectful young man is the one rousing the troops from the center of New England's pre- and post-game huddles.
"I think I fell into that role earlier this year, when [linebacker Jerod Mayo] went out with his injury. I guess the guys just started looking to me to do that," Slater sheepishly grinned.
"I remember when Tedy [Bruschi] was here and he did it. It's been a lot of fun for me, especially when we're winning games, to do that. It's a neat deal."
He may think he only picked up the mantle a fallen comrade dropped, but it's not really true.
Said Bill Belichick: "I think Matt is a real good leader – one of the best that we have. I wouldn’t necessarily say his style is overly vocal but I’d say he’s a very good leader. I don’t think that’s any kind of criteria to be a leader. I think that’s just a style, I don’t think it’s a true measure of leadership.
"I think it gets better every year. He was a good leader, three, four years ago, but I’d say he’s built on that and improved it up to this point. I’m sure, knowing Matt and the way he works and his diligence and his commitment to the team, I’m sure he’ll continue to improve it as we go forward."
Those comments were made in July; clearly, the coach was comfortable with Slater leading the charge before Mayo's season ended in October. If anything has changed, the 28-year old has learned to turn the volume up in recent months.
"I think as I've gotten older around here I've gotten more comfortable about being a little bit more vocal. I'm not necessarily a rah-rah type leader, but you can make exceptions from time to time," Slater grinned.
So there he stood, behind the podium on the snowy Thursday of New England's postseason bye week. He was one of three Patriots, along with Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich, asked to speak for the team about the playoff push.
"We've been encouraged by what we've been able to do so far. We got some good work today in the elements. You expect to play in something like that at some point this year. I think we've gotten to go back to the basics, focus on the fundamentals. Hopefully we'll have another good day tomorrow, and as the weekend comes, hopefully we can take advantage of some time off and get off our feet.
"So far, I think we're headed in the right direction. But I still think there are things we can do to take advantage of this bye."
Noted. After all, when Slater speaks, it's best to listen.