Slater truly a 'special' captain

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Slater truly a 'special' captain

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com 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 sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)