Matthew Slater explains challenging transition facing Patriots special teams

Ryan Hannable
March 31, 2020 - 9:45 am

Over the years, the Patriots have been known to have one of the best special teams units in the entire NFL.

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Scott O'Brien, one of the best special teams coaches in the history of the league, led the group from 2009-14 and then after working under him for two years, Joe Judge took over for the last five years. With Judge now the head coach in New York, the Patriots will transition to a new coach, likely Cameron Achord, who has worked under Judge for the last two seasons.

Speaking via conference call Monday, special teams captain Matthew Slater acknowledged the transition will be tough, and possibly even more so because of COVID-19.

"It’s going to be challenging," he said. "Right now, we’re looking at the possibility of not having an offseason at all. I think some of that acclimation process is going to have to be on the fly whenever it is that we’re able to return to work. A lot of us have some familiarity with Cam (Achord) and we’re really comfortable with his coaching style and we know how he likes to call the game, we know that – again, I talked about coach Achord, he’s going to have the same expectations of us that has always been had of us around here and that’s pride yourself on working hard, pride yourself on doing your job the right way, pride yourself on being a selfless team player and don’t expect anything to be handed to you.

"I think Cam’s going to coach us in that same style, certainly when we get into games, we’ll see how he calls games differently. That will be a learning process. I’m sure there will be a lot of dialogue between him and players from now until the time we play. We’re excited about the transition, it’s a new challenge for all of us. It’s a new year, every team, every player has to prove himself over again and that’s exciting. I know Cam is up for the challenge and I know he’s going to lead us in the right way."

The team also lost two of its best special teamers this offseason in kicker Stephen Gostkowski and Nate Ebner.

"You really can’t say enough good things about Stephen, what he’s done for this organization," Slater said. "If you think about the beginning of his career, when he was drafted here, he was drafted to replace a guy who is maybe the best kicker in the history of the league with some of the things he’s been able to accomplish. For Stephen to come in here and to just keep his head down and year after year lead by example, work at his craft, try to get himself better, be there for his teammates, be a light within the locker room that brought some laughter and joy to the locker room, the type of man that he is, the friendship that he offered to so many of us. He’s another guy that you just feel a lot of gratitude towards because he did so much to lead the way. Not a guy that you talk about a ton when you talk about this dynasty if you will, if that’s what you want to call it, but I think he’s a guy that should be mentioned right up there along some of the guys that have really carried the flag on this."

Added Slater: "I think for me, I’ve worked more closely with Nate than any player on our roster over the last eight years, by a long shot. I’ve spent more time in meetings, more time on the practice field with Nate Ebner than any player, maybe in my career. So, his value to what we did in the kicking game, it just was off the charts. It would never be something that gets talked about because there’s so many intricacies within the kicking game that get overlooked, but the things that he has done for our football team on and off the field over the last eight years have been tremendous. I know personally as a player, no player has challenged me more, has pushed me more, has gotten more out of me as a teammate than him. I certainly thanked him for that when I found out that he was leaving, but I certainly am going to miss that. What he did for us as a communicator, you think of him almost as a third coach on the field. He did so much and he got guys lined up, he got guys on the same page, and he did it not only year after year, but week after week, day after day. I mean, he was so consistent in what he brought to the table."

The Patriots still have to find a kicker, but did add two safeties who have special teams experience who could replace Ebner in Adrian Phillips and Cody Davis.

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