special teams captain MATTHEW SLATER
Q: How does it feel to be back?
MS: It's an exciting time of year. It's kind of like the first week of school. You know, you meet new classmates, you're excited about working towards a new goal and I think everybody's thankful to be here, thankful to be working, happy to see one another. So, it's a good feeling to be back.
Q: What is your first impression of some of your new classmates?
MS: I think everyone in here has come in with a sense of urgency, a sense of humility, understanding that we all have to work. We're all starting from ground zero. These new guys have been great. Their buy-in has been great. They're veteran players; they understand that this league is a unique place. You have to compete wherever you go and they get that and they've done that and the buy-in has been great thus far.
Q: What kind of training are you doing during the first phase of the offseason program?
MS: You name it, we're doing it. Moses Cabrera has a great vision for what we're doing here as a team. He has a plan that he thinks about year-round and he's always tweaking that plan. I think we've seen some tweaking that's already happening, and I think he's going to continue to make adjustments and do whatever he thinks is best to get this football team physically ready to go. I think it's upon - as players, we have to take it upon ourselves to make sure that we're buying in, doing what we're asked to do and try to take the coaching and try to get better.
Q: What was the experience like of reaching free agency, and was there any uncertainty as to whether you'd be back this year?
MS: A unique experience, but that's the nature of the National Football League - free agency and that process. I'll just say I'm excited to be back, thankful to be here. It means a lot to me that I'm able to continue my career here, and I'm thankful for the belief that the ownership, coaching staff and teammates that they've shown in me. So, excited to be back.
Q: How would you describe what it was like to take a step into enemy territory and visit with another team?
MS: Well, I have a lot of respect for all the teams around this league because I know how hard it is to do what we do, and I certainly have a lot of respect for teams that we've competed against, coaching staffs that I'm familiar with - nothing but respect for them and their players, their organization, their ownership across the board. But, again, I'm very thankful and humbled to have the opportunity to continue to play here.
Q: We've heard some players who have left this offseason talk about this being a tough place to play, but with the reward of competing for championships. How would you describe what it's like to play here?
MS: Well, certainly, it is challenging. It's the National Football League, though. I think if it was easy then a lot more people would be able to do it. It's tough, it's very difficult and I don't think that's just unique here. I think every place is tough. This is a very competitive league with some of the best athletes in the world. There's a premium put on winning wherever you are. Everyone wants to win and have success, and everybody's going to be judged off of whether or not they're winning. That's what it comes down to. I don't think that this place is unique in that regard. I think every team in this league is on a quest to win and have success, and that quest is not an easy one.
Q: Do you think Bill Belichick is tougher than other coaches?
MS: Well, I certainly wouldn't be able to speak to that because my experience as a professional has only been here in New England, thankfully.
Q: As a leader and captain, is it different or concerning to you that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski did not report to offseason workouts yesterday?
MS: Well, I'll say this. Those are two men that are more than capable of speaking for themselves, so I certainly wouldn't want to be out of line in attempting to speak for them. This is a voluntary program. Every year, guys have different things that come up, whether it's family issues, personal issues, things come up. The guys that are here, we're going to do what we can to work hard and come together and take this thing one day at a time, and that's really all I can say about that. I certainly don't want to put myself in a position where I feel like I can speak for those two guys.
Q: What was your reaction to seeing a number of free agents sign with other teams this offseason?
MS: Well, certainly from a human standpoint and personal relationships that I have with all those guys, it's unfortunate that your relationships are going to have to change. Certainly, those relationships are not going to end, but you understand from a business side of things, business is business and things happen. That's just the nature of the National Football League. So, I wish those guys nothing but success except when we have to play against them, but I'll be rooting for those guys. I have a tremendous relationship with those guys and am so appreciative of what they've meant to me personally over the course of my career.
Q: Do you consider this portion of the offseason program a bonding time for players?
MS: I'd say so, especially with new guys. We're trying to invest in relationships. I think relationships, when it comes to a football team, are very important. I don't think it gets talked about enough, but when you're out on the football field, doing what we're asked to do each and every day, it takes a lot of trust. It takes a lot of familiarity with the man next to you, so the guys that are here - we're going to make sure that we invest the time in getting to know one another.
Q: Do the new guys ask you how it works around here with the culture and what they need to be doing?
MS: Yeah, certainly. There are a lot of questions, and I think questions are good. You don't want to come into a situation blind, if possible. You want to have a sense of what's expected of you, what your teammates expect of you, and I think questions are good. Keep asking questions, keep learning, because we're all trying to get on the same page, whether you've been here 11 years or you've been in the building for two days. We're all trying to get on the same page.
Q: As a special teams captain, do you get excited when you can bring a player like Cordarrelle Patterson into the unit?
MS: Absolutely. I've been a fan of his for a long time. He's a very unique returner with what he's able to do. The guy is really gifted, that young man. We're excited to have him, excited to get on the same page and hopefully have some success. But that success is going to be built throughout the course of the offseason. It's not going to happen overnight. We're going to have to work at this thing one day at a time and try to put ourselves in good position moving forward.
Q: Have you heard of the rumblings from the league about the possibility of eliminating the kickoff from the game?
MS: Well, certainly, something like that is hard to miss. A lot of people will say I have a bias because it's what I do for a living, and I understand that, but I think it's no mystery that I'm closer to the end of my career than I am to the beginning. That being said, I think you take away this play from football [and] you're changing the fabric of the game. I think this play is part of the fabric of the game. It really makes me ask the question 'Where do you go from here? What will happen next?', and I don't know the answer to that. I don't know. But I look at a number of plays. I look at a goal-line-stand. I look at a third-and-1; think about the collisions that are happening there. Those may be deemed unsafe by some people. If you make a drastic change such as this, what's next? What happens? The reality is this is football. This is a contact sport. This is a violent sport, and all of us that are playing the game understand that. There are inherent risks that come along with playing the game. If you're not OK with those risks, I respect that, and maybe you should think about doing something else. But if we feel like we need to take away this play from the game to make the game safer, well then what does that stop? The game has changed so much in my lifetime, since my father played, watching him play until now, and I understand. Look, I'm a player rep, and nobody cares more about player health and safety than the players, than the men that are out there on the field putting their bodies on the line. That being said, we understand we're playing football. To take away the kickoff, I really think it would be tragic. I really think, like I said, you're changing the fabric of the game that we all love to cover, report on, that we love to play, coach, and I think it's very disheartening to continue to have this brought up. I understand, look, people are concerned with the long-term health and safety of the players. But as I said, no one's more concerned than the men that are actually out there doing it, and if we're OK doing it, I don't understand why we have to continue to look for alternatives, continue to push. Those are just my thoughts on it. As you can tell, I feel strongly about it and would love to continue that dialogue throughout the course of the season.
Q: Do you think you'd be standing here right now if the kickoff wasn't a part of the game when you came into the league in 2008?
Q: Same for Nate Ebner, Brandon King and other guys involved on special teams?
MS: I think they'd tell you the same thing.
Q: Is part of the NFLPA's stance that they will be taking away potential jobs from players?
MS: I honestly would take my union hat off when answering this question. Look, you take jobs from some guys and it gives other guys an opportunity. I understand that. I think we've got to think long and hard before you remove a play like this because you're changing football.