Slater truly a 'special' captain


Slater truly a 'special' captain

By A. Sherrod Blakely Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn

FOXBORO As Matt Slater stood in front of his locker on Thursday, surrounded by a bevy of microphones, digital tape recorders and notebooks filled with indiscernible scribbling (some know it better as chick scratch), he spoke with an even-keeled tone that in many ways, said more about the man than the subject matter.

Slater had some of the biggest plays in the preseason for the Patriots, both as a receiver and as a special teams player.

But even he acknowledged that as the New England Patriots went about getting their roster down to the 53-man mandate, he wasn't sure if he would be kept around.

Slater, a fifth-round pick of the Patriots in 2008, has been around here long enough to know that things can change quickly.

Can. They. Ever.

One minute, he was wondering if the next shoe to fall was going to be the Pats kicking him to the curb.

The next?

He's a team captain.

Slater was among the six players selected as team captains for the 2011 season.

He joins quarterback Tom Brady, offensive lineman Logan Mankins, linebacker Jerod Mayo, cornerback Devin McCourty and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork as team captains for the 2011-2012 season.

"It's kind of a weird shift to go from that to now, being a captain," Slater admitted. "But I'm just grateful for the opportunity, and just really appreciative that my teammates think of me that way."

When you look at Slater's background, being a special teams standout seems an ideal role for him.

At UCLA, he played on both sides of the ball.

However, it was his special teams play that really stood out.

As a senior, he had a 29.0-yard return average on kicks, which included three touchdowns. His kickoff return average of 29.0 per game as a senior in 2007 was tops in the Pac-10, and ranked 12th nationally. He finished that year with 986 kickoff return yards, which was a UCLA single-season record. In addition to his return work, Slater also recorded 25 tackles as a safety and special teams player.

So when it came time to think about what his role would be at the next level, it was a no-brainer.

"I came into the league knowing that (special teams play) was something that I was going to have to do, the way my college career went, back and fourth between positions.," he said. "I knew if I were to have a chance at accomplishing my dream of playing in the National Football League, then special teams was going to be a vehicle for that. I knew coming in, I would have to do a little bit of the dirty work. I didn't know what all that would entail. I love doing that, I really do."

While his special teams play has certainly stood out, Slater opened some eyes during the preseason with his work at wide receiver.

In the four preseason games, Slater had 5 catches for 190 yards, which, if you do the math - I'll save you the time - works out to a 38-yards-per-grab average.

It's not totally out of the question to see No. 18 lined up at wide receiver at times this season, but Slater said he has no plans to push for more time with the offense.

"It's important to winning football games," Slater said of special-teams play. "It's three phases of the game. We've seen that over the years, special teams can win games. There's no shame in getting your hands dirty, going out there and battling. We need role players. Everybody can't be a superstar. Everybody needs to be a star in their role, so I've tried to embrace my role and be a star in it. I'm just trying to get better every day."

And now as a team captain, he's charged with doing more to help those younger players around him improve their game as well.

It is a job that Slater doesn't take lightly; a job that in many ways he had been groomed for by his father, Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater.

After the Patriot players voted on the new captains and head coach Bill Belichick told them the results following Wednesday's practice, Matt Slater said the first person he called was his father.

"I know he was a captain during his career," said Matt Slater. "I know he always encouraged me to be a leader, a man that stands out, a man of character. It just means a lot that the guys think that way of me."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”