Matthew Slater, Wide Receiver
Q: How would you describe the vibe around the team now that everyone is back in the building?
MS: It's similar to the first day of school. Everyone is excited to be back, excited to see one another and reconnect after a period of time away from one another. And then I think we're all excited about the task that lies ahead of us. It's a fun day, certainly.
Q: Can you describe what you've learned over the years about returning for training camp after winning a championship and managing expectations as the defending champions?
MS: You've got to leave the past in the past. When it comes to successes or failures in this league you have to be able to have a short memory and move on. We understand that anything that's been done in the past has no bearing on what we do moving forward. It's important for us to remind ourselves of that each and every day that we come to work. We have to prove ourselves all over again as individuals, and we have to prove ourselves all over again as a team. If there's one thing I've learned, this league will humble you quickly if you don't maintain that mindset.
Q: How do you go about keeping guys in check when there are such big expectations externally for this team?
MS: Well, I think it's quite foolish to believe and to buy into some of the things that are being said about our football team right now. We have yet to go out and have a competitive practice in pads in 2017, so I think we need to remember that and understand that it's hard to have success in this league. There are so many good players, so many good coaches. I honestly think it's quite disrespectful to say some of the things that have been said about our football team to the other players and coaches in this league. We have to remember who we are. We have to remember that we've got to build this thing from the ground up and all we can worry about is what happens today. We can control today and then, you know, from there hopefully the good Lord wakes us up tomorrow and we'll take care of tomorrow.
Q: Is there anything in particular that stands out to you that you've heard in the media that seems disrespectful to other teams in the league?
MS: Well, you know, I don't subscribe to the Twitters, and the Instagrams and those things, as you all know. I watch a little SportsCenter. I watch a little stuff from time to time. You guys know what's being said about us. Like I said, I think it's quite foolish, some of the things that are being said. I really do. We can't believe that as a football team.
Q: As the special teams captain, what is your role in helping along some of your younger teammates?
MS: I think just being available. There's going to be a lot of questions that guys have when it comes to the kicking game. A lot of guys were starters in college and maybe they didn't do this, so it's going to be a little bit new to them. So I think just being a resource for those guys is important, letting them know it's OK to ask questions, trying to lead by example, try to serve as a leader. I always believe in servanthood. It's about not elevating yourself to a positon of power. It's about humbling yourself to the last guy on the roster and try to help him do his job better. That's what my approach has always been. That's the way it's going to be moving forward. We're all excited and thankful to be at it one more time.
Q: Despite blocking out the noise, would it be fair to say you guys always have high expectations as a team?
MS: Certainly. I mean we expect a lot of ourselves, but I think everyone who's in this league expects and demands a lot of themselves. This is a very competitive league with the best athletes in the world doing this particular sport. The demands and expectations are high for everyone, but I think for our football team we just need to stay focused on the here and now. As I said, it's about going out and being competitive in practice. Our goal is to go in here and have a good meeting this afternoon, prepare ourselves with the install, and come out tomorrow and try to be competitive. That's all we can worry about. All of that other stuff is out of our control. There are so many variables that come into play, things that are unforeseen and things of that nature. We just need to focus on the here and now.
Q: What are your thoughts on the fact that you personally are now entering your 10th year in the league?
MS: It's humbling to be in this position. I thank God every day for preserving my body, continuing to give me favor here and kind of guide my career. I'm very thankful to this organization, my teammates here. I've never believed in self-made men, and I'm certainly not one. I've had a lot of people in my corner over the years that are really important to my development, important to my life as a man and helped me along the way of my career. I'm just very thankful and humbled to be in this position. To be on the brink of 10 seasons is something that I don't take for granted. I guess I'm half the man my dad was at this point, which is pretty cool. I mess with him about that. It's an exciting time.
Q: What do you remember about the summer of 2009 training camp?
MS: I remember dislocating my elbow and that wasn't fun. I was a really young player. I was coming off of a tough rookie season. I had an injury there in the preseason, so I was still trying to find my way, still trying to figure out who I was as a player in this league, still trying to develop confidence. Again, as I said, I had so many good people in my corner that really believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. Coach [Bill Belichick] gave me an opportunity, the coaches continued to coach me up. Again, when I think about my journey in the NFL, it's not about Matthew Slater. It's about the people that I've been around, and I feel really fortunate to have been around some great folks.
Q: What was the chatter like among the players when you guys saw the photo shoot that head coach Bill Belichick did for Nantucket Magazine?
MS: I think it's a tremendous opportunity to highlight his skills, and abilities and good looks, so good for him. It looks like he had a good time with that. I'm sure our fans appreciate seeing that side of him, as do we, the players.
Q: Austin Carr said that you had kind of taken him under your wing. How has your relationship been with him thus far?
MS: It's been great. The thing about Austin and I, the number one thing we have in common is our love for the Lord, our faith. So I think that's really something that brought us together early. He's just a great young man. He's come here with the right attitude, been very humble, been willing to work and get better and as a veteran player, you always can appreciate that from a young guy and you want to do anything you can to help him. I've really enjoyed working with him, as well as the other rookies. It looks like we have a great class of young guys that have come in with the right mindset, so I just look forward to continuing to work with those guys as we move forward.
Q: A recent Boston University study showed a high percentage of former football player's brains were found to have CTE. How much do you consider things like that in your career when you come across studies like that?
MS: Well, it's certainly been a hot button topic over the last couple of years. I think that's no mystery. As a player, you're definitely thankful that they're starting to look into that, do the necessary research and hopefully get us to a better place when it comes to that. Being married to a pathologist, I know that there is a lot I don't know and there is a lot that we still have yet to learn. I let her do the worrying about that and I just try to focus on playing football, understanding that there are inherent risks with playing this game, understanding all of the things involved with that. As I said, I hope for players past, present and future that we can continue that research, continue to search for things and see where it gets us.
Q: What kind of an impact has head strength and condition coach Moses Cabrera had on the team the last two years and how has his offseason training program kept that part of the season competitive?
MS: I can't say enough about Moses Cabrera and the impact that he's been having on this football season, not only the last couple of years but as an assistant. It's a joy to be around people who really love to do what they do and Moses loves strength and conditioning. He spends hours trying to find ways to make us better as a football team, trying to address individual players and their needs and you can't say enough about what he has done. It's a lot of running, a lot of lifting, a lot of sacrifice but I think it pays off for us as we saw during certain points last season. I can't say enough good things about Moses. We're really fortunate to have a guy like that who is passionate, concerned with doing things the right way, not cutting corners but making sure he has a football team that's mentally and physically prepared to play. We feel really fortunate to have him calling the shots in the strength and condition program.
Q: How much has your approach to conditioning in the offseason evolved in your time in the league?
MS: Certainly. Well, I'm not 22 [years old] anymore. I can't roll out and eat In-N-Out Burger, Krispy Kreme like I did when I was at UCLA. I think I've learned a lot about nutrition from our nutritionist, Ted Harper. I've had some, again, good people giving me information and helping me apply that information, and then a guy like Moses who I think really has, as my dad used to say, helped me retard the aging process by the way that he's gone to great lengths to ensure that I'm doing the right things as an older player. Moses and Ted, James Hardy, Sammy Morris, the rest of our support staff, our trainers and the like - they've done a great deal for me personally. They do a great deal for a lot of guys around here, and it's important. You can't do things the same as you get older. You've got to be able to evolve.
Q: Do you feel like Tom Brady could really play into his late 40's and possibly even until age 50?
MS: Kevin Garnett said anything is possible, right? I mean look, that's not for me to say. Tom does more than anybody on this team to get himself prepared, to do what he needs to do mentally and physically to play this game. But again, we all just take it one day at a time and I know that's Tom's approach. We all have personal goals for ourselves, but again, ultimately nobody is promised tomorrow. The good Lord allows you to wake up, you attack that day and then you go from there. I'll be waiting to see, just like you guys, where it ends up. Remember, like KG [Kevin Garnett] said, anything is possible. Thank you, guys.
DEVIN MCCOURTY, DEFENSIVE BACK
DM: Hello everyone.
Q: Can we see your full shirt?
DM: It's an old one.
Q: How does it feel to be back?
DM: It's cool man. It's always like the first day of school. I mean obviously training camp is not the [most fun] thing to do but it'll prepare us and get us ready for the season so it's always exciting to be back around the guys and have some fun. A lot of us being with our families over the last month, month and a half, it's always good to get back and have some guy time.
Q: When you take the field tomorrow it's going to be rampant with fans. Can you describe what it's like to get you geared up?
DM: It's fun. I came from college where we had all closed practices so I still remember my first time walking out there and looking like 'why are all these people here to watch practice?'. I think it always gives us a boost. You come out there and see all the fans that just want to watch practice and cheer us on and show that they're here from the start. So it's a good feeling and really a sign of training camp is back and it's time to play some football.
Q: Do you think it's possible for Tom Brady to play football into his mid-forties?
DM: Obviously I don't know what's possible but I just keep watching him and trying to learn different things from him, see what he does because the guy has been able to have such longevity at such a high level. I don't see a reason why he would slow down. He still does so much to help his body, so much mentally and physically to stay prepared and ready in the game. So I think for a lot of us it's just trying to learn as much as possible from him. He can teach us so much just about how to stay sharp and be ready to play at a high level whenever called upon.
Q: Where do you think Stephon Gilmore is at in terms of his communication and knowing the defense?
DM: I think we're all relatively in the same spot. It's kind of a grind to start each year kind of from that base, basic, really fundamental group with us and I think we built on that in the spring. All of us - we haven't talked, we haven't communicated on the field in over a month so all of us have to start kind of from scratch tomorrow and build that back up through training camp. Hopefully we get out there [and] it's like riding a bike, you start to pick it up and get going. But from day one we all kind of start from that same point because as a secondary you start together. You don't have one guy here, one guy [here]. You're a group. You have to play well and be together to have any type of success so we'll all start on that basic level and just start to build tomorrow.
Q: When you come back as defending Super Bowl champions, do you have to remind yourself that much more that we're starting from scratch?
DM: No, if you get a chance to walk into one of Bill Belichick's meetings, you won't have a hard time figuring that out. We start off every year kind of the same and Bill will put us through the ringer and have all different things that we need to do as a team and build upon. Since I've been here, I would say that's one thing we've never really had to struggle with coming from him. I think that's big for us because it starts from the top. When Bill comes in there and he's ready to go, it's all about next season, guys follow suit and I think we've had a good group of leaders and core guys that have been able to keep us on task with that throughout my years here.
Q: This is the first time you'll participate in training camp as a father. How is that different from years past?
DM: I'll get some sleep at night in the hotel so I'm excited about that. But it's fun. I'm just looking forward to the days coming off the practice field seeing my little daughter there. It's a cool experience to be a father and to know that it's time to go to work and provide for your family and try to get better and have a good year, but also have something at home that's much more to play for and much more to live for and try to do the right things.
Q: You have 20 starters returning from the Super Bowl last year. What is the relevance of that right now?
DM: I guess we'll see. I'm sure this next meeting we have with Bill he'll come in and tell us there's no starters, we're starting from scratch. I think we'll go from there. I think the hard thing with this league is - it's true - as training camp goes on you'll get reminders of whatever you did last year doesn't matter and it won't just be here, it'll be throughout the league whether it's surprise releases and different things like that. I think, going off your question earlier, you're humbled just by being in this league and seeing what transpires on the day in, day out. Hopefully the experience of having 20 guys that went out there and played meaningful football for us helps, but it's all about how we play this year. We all have to come back ready to go and ready to compete and play at a high level.
Q: How closely have you followed Colin Kaepernick and are you surprised that he hasn't signed with a team yet?
DM: I've talked to him when we played him last year. Honestly I'm not that surprised. I think that he was kind of aware of what he was getting into. [It's] sad but the guy's a good player, he's done some successful things in this league. It's just how things shake out. What he has done I think has made it hard for him to get a job, not even going off of his talent level but that alone makes it tough for a team to give him a shot. I think you see that. I think he was kind of aware when he did and what he was doing, the effect it would have on his career. It's tough for him, I would imagine. We'll see. Hopefully he gets picked up and has a chance to still play.
Q: We've seen guys in this league get second chances for domestic violence and other violent crimes and what have you. What's it like to see him maybe not get a chance because of the stance that he took?
DM: Yeah, I mean that's the thing. In this league it's not promised. There's people above us that make decisions to either have us on the team or not have us on the team. So everything you do will have an effect on your career. It's something you have to deal with. We're not the only profession that deals with that. It's a lot of other professions you deal with it, it's just we're in the public eye more. It's something you kind of expect. The longer you're in the league you see more things, you kind of understand and see how it works. It's never easy to handle but different things happen and I believe everything happens for a reason.
Q: There was a Boston University study published yesterday that cited 99% of the player's brains studied had CTE. How concerned do you get when you see something like that and is that a subject that you've given increasing thought to over your years in the NFL?
DM: Yeah, I think all of the technology has shown that we're getting more and more research. I think the good thing for us, as players, is that the NFL and NFLPA are finding ways to get all of that information to us and making us knowledgeable of the situation. But I think all of us decide to play football so that's why we're back here in training camp and ready to go compete for another year. So it's good to get that research and learn from it.
Q: Have you always been a Dennis the Menace fan?
DM: A little but I'm just a fan of t-shirts. If I see it and I think it's pretty cool, I'll rock it.
Q: That was before your time though, right?
DM: No, I'm a little older than you think, Mike [Reiss].
Q: Matthew Slater talked about some of the expectations being placed on you guys, including the prediction of having an undefeated season, as disrespectful to the rest of the league. Is that how you feel?
DM: Yeah, I mean we're all - a lot of teams are starting today but they're starting this week. To say before we even tackle somebody, throw a pass that we're going to beat everybody on our schedule, I think that is kind of disrespectful to the work and what everyone is trying to put in to be a team. Obviously every goal from every team is to not lose. You don't go out there and plan to lose but I think to not see anything from a team and say they're going to win every game and disrespect every opponent on the schedule is kind of ludicrous. But I think the good thing is we don't pay attention to that. We kind of know we have a good group of guys that have been here for a while that knows what it takes to go in and have a good football team, knows how hard it is to go out there every Sunday or whatever day you play and win a game. So we know the type of work we have to put in just to have a shot to go out there and win.
Q: How do you balance the development of a large group of rookies and newly-acquired veteran free agents? How challenging is that as a group to come together as one to start the year when you have guys trying to catch up to speed with the defense as well as the NFL?
DM: Yeah, it's like a day-to-day process, man. It's a lot of fun, honestly, I think now this is going into my eighth year of being in all these different situations. Whether it was a couple years ago where we added [Darrelle] Revis, [Brandon] Browner, when [Patrick] Chung came back, those were all guys that had a ton of experience but had success in the NFL. It'll be the same thing with Steph [Stephon Gilmore] where you just try to catch him up on everything we do. For me, I just try to throw as much information at you and try to tell you some key things that you obviously need to know in our defense. The rookies are the same thing - throw a lot at them, try to help them be successful in the NFL first of all and then see what they retain and just try to help them each day. We've all been rookies before. There's nothing that any guy can do to help you and make you understand it all in one day. It's just a day-to-day process where you learn and obviously training camp is probably the worst when you're a rookie because you just don't know what to expect each day. But you just have to put your head down and go to work and I think as a group that's what we'll do. We have a great group of guys to practice with every day in training camp with our offense. So I think the first thing is just going out there and competing each day which can't be taught from any leader or coach. That's just as a group we'll have to have it individually to go out there and all that will come together collectively.
Q: For the players who have been here for a while, that safety room in particular, are you learning right now or is this time more just physicals and making sure you're in shape? How are you using these days?
DM: No, I think you always learn about different plays. As you play more years it's kind of learning how you played something last year, do you want to play it different, do you want to play it the same. I think that's the cool thing about our group is we are trying to do that. We're not just sitting in meetings like 'alright we already know our base coverage'. We're trying to see - some of us are trying to remember what the offense started off with on day one and see if we could jump a pass or something with Tom [Brady]. It's always a group of guys out there, and our safety room, trying to get better. The cool thing about the safety position is how you can help the corners. The more you can get to them information on the edge and things you see in the formation helps them out. For us as safeties, you're always learning, you're always trying to get better and I think the good thing is we have a group that we all push each other by talking trash in the meeting room, challenging each other to go forward. Our room is a special room and we have a lot of fun.