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Slater creates hits with a special flair.

Byline: Jennifer Toland

FOXBORO - There was a great Associated Press photo from Sunday's regular-season finale against the Dolphins capturing Julian Edelman racing toward the end zone during his record-setting punt return and Matthew Slater running right behind with his arms in the air, signaling a touchdown and celebrating the play.

"It was rewarding for the whole unit," Slater said yesterday, "and I was so happy for him."

Guys like Slater and Tracy White, both core special teamers, don't get much recognition, but don't think for a minute that Patriots coach Bill Belichick underestimates their value.

Slater, who was in danger of not making the team after missing most of training camp with an injury, helped New England's punt coverage unit rank sixth; and the kick coverage unit, despite having some problems at times during the year, rank 17th. Slater led the Patriots in special teams tackles with 21.

"I just feel extremely blessed," said Slater, a polite, thoughtful and deeply religious young man. "Just being able to come back from the injury and produce and help the team this year - I'm blessed. On top of that, I'm playing with great players like Tracy, Dane (Fletcher), Sammy (Morris), Sergio (Brown). With those guys out there, it helps me make plays. That's not me. It's those guys."

Slater, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA in 2008 and the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, missed about a month of training camp because of a calf injury. He was most definitely on the bubble, but when cutdown day came, he survived, essentially beating out Sam Aiken as an extra wide receiver/special teams contributor.

The speedy Slater is listed as a wide receiver on the Patriots roster, but he has zero catches in his three-year career. Last season, he averaged 24.5 yards on 11 kickoff returns - a duty he also had as a rookie - but the Patriots left that job to Brandon Tate (and Dan Connolly) this season.

"I embrace my role," Slater said. "I take a lot of pride in what I do as do the men around me. This is the role we have, and everyone needs to be strong in that role in order for you to have a championship team, to have a chance to win a championship. We put a lot of time into it, and hopefully it continues to pay off and show on the field."

The Patriots signed White, a standout special teams performer during his eight-year career, on Sept. 5.

He's also been a key contributor and finished just behind Slater in special teams tackles.

"The experience he has, the ability he has, the way he prepares for games," Slater said, "he's a great player, and I've learned a lot from watching him, how he practices, how he plays.

He's done a lot for us. As a young guy looking to him, he has helped me personally get better, and having him has helped our unit get better."



CUTLINE: Matthew Slater
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 7, 2011
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