Slater loving WR reps, but happy anywhere

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Slater loving WR reps, but happy anywhere

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.

Van Noy sees playing-time bump as he learns Patriots language

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Van Noy sees playing-time bump as he learns Patriots language

When Kyle Van Noy was traded to the Patriots in late October, he had a lot to learn. He needed to understand the layout of his new team's maze-like facility. He needed to adjust to a new locker room. He needed to adapt to a new home. 

He also had to become fluent in a new language.

The former Lions 'backer was inactive for two weeks before he was comfortable enough with the Patriots system -- and the coaching staff was comfortable enough with him -- to get on the field. He played 29 snaps against the Niners in first game with his new club, then saw 28 plays against the Jets. On Sunday he saw his role expand as he played 40 of a possible 51 plays, which was more than Shea McClellin (38) or Dont'a Hightower (33). 

"Kyle has done a great job of working really hard to acclimate to what we’re doing, and he has had to learn really fast as far as the system, the communication, the language," said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on a conference call Tuesday. "It’s like when you go to a different system, offensively or defensively, a lot of times it’s just learning the vernacular and the verbiage . . . That’s a big part of it. Then getting more familiar with that kind of terminology and the communication is critical because there’s a lot of calls and adjustments, things like that that we’ve got to do on the field."

Van Noy was making some of those calls himself on Sunday as he wore the green dot on his helmet when Hightower was on the sidelines. Even with the added responsibility, Van Noy was able to play freely enough that he put together what might have been the best game of his three-year career. 

Used at the end of the line of scrimmage as well as in a more traditional off-the-line linebacker role, Van Noy was effective in defending both the pass and the run: He stuffed three Rams rush attempts, he recorded a quarterback hit that led to an incompletion, he drew a holding call, and he recorded an athletic interception when he tracked a wobbling Jared Goff pass that floated over the middle after Jabaal Sheard hit Goff's arm as the rookie released his throw.

After several of his stand-out plays, Van Noy was visibly excited on the field and later on the sidelines. It was the culmination of six weeks of work, learning as much as he could from a coaching staff that was eager to teach him. 

"He’s extremely prideful in his work and his approach to the game," Patricia said. "He’s very cerebral. He’ll ask a lot of questions. He really wants to understand what we’re doing and why, which is great. We’re trying to give him those answers and insight into kind of where some of this either came from or developed or situations like that so that’s really good."