FOXBORO, Mass. — Donte Stallworth is back in New England. But he’s not the only veteran with a chance to fill the Patriots’ void at wide receiver.
When Julian Edelman went down with a broken foot during Sunday’s win in Miami, Stallworth — who had worked out for the Patriots just a week earlier — was brought in as his replacement. But the veteran receiver may need some time to get reacclimated to the intricacies of the Patriots’ offense, so Matthew Slater is preparing to live out the Patriots’ mantra as the “next man up.”
“Whatever the coaches ask of me, whatever they decide will be the best for this team. It will give us the best chance at success” Slater said. “So, just for me, I just have to be ready.”
The Patriots’ special teams captain and an AFC Pro Bowler in 2011, Slater is a valuable talent. But he hasn’t had much experience in the Patriots’ offense since entering the NFL.
Slater’s been targeted just six times — half coming last season — and has caught just one pass — also last year — in five NFL seasons. This year hasn’t been much different, as he’s seen maybe a dozen offensive snaps, which might even be generous, and hasn’t spent much time with the first unit in practice either.
With so few reps on offense, Slater isn’t exactly the ideal replacement for a reliable threat like Edelman — a reality he’s well aware of. But he’s still preparing for the chance, just in case.
“Anytime you lose a guy as dynamic as Julian, as a group collectively you have to step up. So, some of us may be called on to do more,” Slater said. “I know as a backup you have to be ready at any time of the year. Your number may never get called, or it may be called early, late. Whatever it is, you have to try to be ready, and hopefully not have a huge drop off when you come in the game.”
Without Edelman, the Patriots are left with just four healthy wide receivers on their roster — Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Stallworth and Slater. That means each receiver’s preparation is critical to success come Monday night. Slater may not see the necessary reps in practice like other receivers, so he’s focusing on his studies to get ready.
“You may not see many physical reps in practice, but mentally you have to be on top of everything because you don’t know when your number’s going to get called,” Slater said, before delving into specifics. “It’s a combination of things. Definitely being familiar with your opponent from week to week, but definitely I think being in the playbook is the biggest thing. So, I think the mental preparation and the studying from that side of things is really what you have to focus on.”
As for his chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady, Slater knows the expectations aren’t any different than that for Welker, Lloyd or Edelman. And even without the practice time, Slater holds himself to that standard.
“I think his expectations and demands are the same for every guy,” Slater added. “So, I can’t make any excuse. If my number’s called, I got to be ready to go.”
Slater’s primary role will still be on special teams this weekend and going forward this season, but at least Bill Belichick knows that, if necessary, he has another option ready and waiting.
Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
Photo via Wikipedia/Matthew Slater