FOXBORO -- Special teamers don't hold the NFL's sexiest jobs. It's sad but true. How many of the league's punt team gunners can you name? Probably not 32.
But a lack of screaming fans doesn't obscure the importance of the position. Patriots coach Bill Belichick talked Wednesday about what he looks for in a gunner, namely, a combination of speed, strength and quickness. If the guy is good, he'll often see two opposing players staring him down across the line.
New England's Matthew Slater? He's good. Pro Bowl good.
"You've got to either be strong enough to deal with them, quick enough to deal with them, or fast enough to deal with them," Belichick noted. "And then there's all the techniques of, not only dealing with the double-team, but also the punts, the returns, the rushes, the wind conditions, knowing where the ball is, locating the ball and the returner, and the different returns and so-forth.
"There's a lot of technique and skill that's beyond just the physical part of it."
Though the physicality should not be undersold. Slater is one of the fastest guys on the team (clocking a 4.44 second 40-yard dash), but realized early on that speed wasn't enough to handle blockers as he ran down their punter.
"You have to be aggressive. It's a tough spot to play…. And two guys get you at the line of scrimmage and try to keep you from getting down the field is a pretty physical battle out there. So you definitely have to have a high level of aggressiveness and toughness to deal with that."
Slater has added 15 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot, formerly 195-pound frame since the Patriots drafted him in 2008. Consequently, he added a Pro Bowl honor to his resume in each of the last two seasons.
So maybe the gunner doesn't sell as many jerseys as his quarterback. But he likely gets a lot of love from his teammates.
And his coach.
"Matt's one of the best in the league," Belichick stated. "I think he has a lot of the qualities that we talked about to be good. Anytime you have to double somebody, that makes it one less guy they can use somewhere else in the return.
"He draws a lot of double-teams and deservedly so. He does an outstanding job of covering punts. Like I said, it's a tough position to play, but he's got a lot of the qualities we talked about to be good and he's done a good job for us."