A big question heading into the 2019 season was how the Patriots would fill the void left by Rob Gronkowski. It’s a tall task to replace arguably the best tight end to ever play the game, and the Patriots can’t rely on just one player to contribute in all of the areas that Gronkowski did. One of those areas is blocking. The coaching staff will have to get creative, and in goal line situations in Miami they did, bringing in special teams captain Matthew Slater.
“I always get a kick out of that when I get a chance to do it,” Slater said of his goal line responsibilities in Miami. “I try to do my best Jackie Slater impersonation there.”
Jackie Slater, Matthew’s father, was an offensive tackle for 20 seasons in the NFL. He played his entire career for the Rams and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. Though contributing in the blocking game isn’t something that Matthew does often, when his number is called, the opportunity to help the team, while paying homage to his father, excites him.
"I get to live my dream out of being a blocking guy like my dad was," Slater said. "I’ve always enjoyed doing that. If the team asks you to do something, you try to step up and do it to help the team. It’s not something I do on a game to game basis. There have been some adjustments there, but I have great coaches around me great players to help me when I’ve been out in those situations."
Though not frequent, Slater does have experience in those situations. Last year against Green Bay, the Patriots used Slater as a goal line blocker for two snaps, and in 2017 against Pittsburgh, he was used the same way.
"Matt’s done that before," Bill Belichick said on Tuesday’s conference call. “It just really depends on what we’re trying to do and what the options are. We have a couple of receivers that are fairly new to the team in terms of being on the field like with Antonio (Brown) and Josh (Gordon). We have other receivers like Gunner (Olszewski) and Phil (Dorsett) that aren’t the biggest guys, physically, in terms of putting them on the goal line or dealing with things like that. It’s really a combination of what you’re asking a player to do, what the options are.”
With Benjamin Watson’s still serving a league suspension, in terms of numbers, the Patriots tight end group will look the same as it did last week. If Slater’s number is called once again this Sunday against the Jets, he’ll be prepared to contribute.
"I think that was pretty well-defined early in the week considering what our tight end situation looks like right now,” Slater said. “We only had two tight ends active in the game. It’ll change week to week depending on the team we’re playing, whatever the game plan is. They do a good job of communicating, and (tight ends coach) Nick Caley does a great job of helping me get ready for those roles when my number’s called."