Where Will He Fit?

Sometimes it takes a special team to recognize talent of a specialist player. The Patriots saw something in rookie Matt Slater, which is why they traded up to go get him. So where does this kid fit?

Wide receiver. Cornerback. Safety. Gunner. Kick returner.

Those are the positions fifth-round pick Matt Slater played in college. If the Patriots are looking for a player with versatility, Slater is their man.

The son of NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater, Matt has been around football most of his life. Beyond bloodlines, Slater made his mark with his father's work ethic and respect for the game while at UCLA.

"The thing that sticks out most in me is the way he worked," Slater said when talking about his father. "It wasn't necessarily the games. The games were great and you get to see that and everybody sees that on Sunday, but I saw the things about my dad that people didn't see: the blood, sweat and tears that he put into this game and how he prepared and the respect that he gave to the game of football. I think that's something he has passed on to me."

The Bruins had high hopes for Slater as a receiver in 2003 but a turf toe injury caused him to redshirt and miss his entire freshman year. In 2005, Slater sustained a stress reaction in his left leg and missed the early part of the season.

Then during his junior year, with the Bruins needing depth at defensive back, Slater moved to cornerback. He played in all 13 games as a junior, though Slater was limited by a shoulder injury. Things got so frustrating that Slater briefly considered giving up football to run track.

Slater reconsidered and moved to safety -- his third position change in four years -- but with standouts Dennis Keyes and Chris Horton (see interview) already ahead of him on the depth chart, Slater thought of another way to get on the field and contribute.

He had made a mark on special teams as a gunner in 2006 and approached the coaching staff about returning kickoffs.

In 2007, he averaged 29.0 yards on 34 kickoff returns, finishing first in the Pac10 and 12th nationally. He also returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, which tied for tops in the country. After three years of playing musical chairs around the depth chart, Slater finally found a home.

Listed as a receiver, Slater is primarily going to be a kick returner and gunner for the Patriots. And unlike a lot of players drafted, Slater has no problem doing the dirty work on special teams.

"I know that's something I have experience in and something that I love to do and I'm not sure if everybody feels that same way when it comes to special teams," Slater said. "I know that that's something I'm looking forward to contributing at and luckily I have been around there and I'm looking forward to continuing it in New England. For me, I'm willing to do whatever coach Belichick and his staff and the organization want me to do. I'm just excited to have an opportunity to keep playing football."

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