Ellis Hobbs is gone, meaning the Patriots not only need a starting cornerback but a kick-return specialist.
Hobbs might have been an adventure on defense, but he was an outstanding special-teamer with a penchant for changing the outlook of a game with one big kick return.
The candidates are plentiful since any cornerback, running back or wide receiver should have enough speed to compete for the position, but the caveat is they must have the right combination of intelligence and instinct to avoid the pitfalls that have plagued other potential replacements.
|Matt Slater returns a kick vs Baltimore Ravens Aug 7, 2008|
(Photo Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Second-year defensive back/receiver Matthew Slater wants the job, but struggled last year to the point where Bill Belichick relinquished him of his duties before the former standout kick-return had a chance to flourish.
Slater botched his first NFL kick-return attempt in the season opener and then fumbled another attempt against the Steelers that helped Pittsburgh put the game away in the second half.
In order to redeem himself in training camp, Slater needs to show his hands are as reliable as his speed.
"I feel like that's something they saw in me when I first got here, and I feel like I have a lot to improve on from last year in that area, and I'm looking forward to that challenge," Slater said. "I'm looking forward to getting better. That's always going to be my goal, to improve and never be satisfied with where I'm at."
The Patriots are hoping Slater absorbed enough information from Hobbs to make the transition in 2009, or else it's back to the drawing board once the season starts.
"Ellis really helped me a lot in that area. He was a great person to be around. I'm grateful for the experience I had to play with him," Slater said. "Some other guys like Kevin Faulk have also helped, so I got a feel for what it takes. But it's not just knowing what it takes, you have to go out and execute it. I look forward to showing I can do that this year."