Slater loving WR reps, but happy anywhere

Slater loving WR reps, but happy anywhere
August 3, 2012, 5:45 pm
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FOXBORO -- Anyone watching Patriots training camp Thursday probably saw a depleted receiving corps by the end of the session. No Brandon Lloyd, no Deion Branch, no Jabar Gaffney.
One guy saw something else. A rare opportunity.
Matthew Slater reaped most of the reps that were left on the field by the trio of absentees. As a listed wide receiver who had just one catch in 16 games last season, he was more than happy to get extra targets this week.
"I'm excited," said Slater. "Whatever position I'm in, just trying to get better. Every year I feel like I've had such great veterans to learn from and the list goes on this year. So many guys at that position have been there, done that. I'm just trying to learn. And I love playing football so I'm having fun."
The windfall of passes might not last long. New England has more than enough receivers in camp when everyone is healthy, and Slater knows the numbers will get whittled down come September.
But it's not the end of the world. The 26-year old has plenty of value elsewhere.
"Obviously, special teams has been my ticket, how I've paid my bills," Slater smiled. "And I still feel like I have a lot of room for improvement. There are a lot of things I can do better and special teams coach Scott O'Brien is staying on me, challenging me to get better.
"At receiver, safety, or offensive line -- wherever it may be -- there's a lot to learn. I haven't spent as much time playing those positions so obviously there's a lot of room for improvement."
The offensive line reference was just a crack, but Slater did indeed get a few reps at safety last season. That shouldn't be necessary this year with the additions of Tavon Wilson and Steve Gregory --which is important to Slater. The special teams captain needs to pour his energy into helping New England improve areas like 2011's 29th-ranked kick return.
"We understand that we struggled, to say the least, there last year. It wasn't any one person's fault, it was the whole unit. We realized that's something we really have to focus on and try to do a better job of setting up Tom Brady and the offense this year."
The pressure is on.
"We have to stick with it. We can't get frustrated, we can't get down on ourselves. But at the same time, we have to keep challenging ourselves, keep working on our techniques. And it goes back to fundamentals. That's the great thing about training camp: You focus on the fundamentals and the little things, and those little things hopefully will give us a chance to make some plays during the season."
Even if the playmaking potential doesn't fall to him at receiver on game days, Slater will find opportunity somewhere, and love every minute of it.