Patriots Off-Season Profiles: Stephen Gostkowski, Matthew Slater, and the Special Teams Unit
FOXBOROUGH – Now that UpToBoston's New England Patriots Off-Season Profiles series has reached the special teams unit, that is a surefire sign that the 2019 football season is right around the corner! After all, only one more profile remains after this one. So far, we have covered the Patriots’ offense, which has holes, but which also still has Tom Brady so we just have to trust in the greatest quarterback to ever play. We also covered the Patriots’ defense, which might be the strongest group the team has boasted in many years. Now, it is time for the most underrated aspect of the Patriots’ roster: special teams.
The special teams squad has been an underrated aspect of the Patriots for every year of its dynasty as Bill Belichick’s mindset has been extremely efficient. One of his first coaching instructions is to teach the absolute minimization of mistakes on the football field. When the special teams unit never makes a mistake, the win is that much closer, once further pressure is placed on the opponent. What the Patriots have in special teams is a group of some of the most disciplined and hard-working players in the NFL. They also have a number of players who are born leaders.
The first player who comes to mind is Matthew Slater. Many thought Slater would be a wide receiver in New England, but he has carved out a reputation as one of the best special teams gunners to ever play football. Elected to seven Pro Bowls, Slater is a captain both on and off the field. His heads up awareness is unparalleled in the league and he helped lead the Patriots to last year’s Super Bowl victory.
Additionally, New England’s depth chart currently lists Julian Edelman as the top punt returner for the team and Sony Michel as the top kick returner. Obviously, having top of the line offensive talent in these roles can be risky, considering the position’s proclivity for injuries. But what Edelman and Michel provide in spatial awareness is extremely valuable to a team that has the M.O. of “every yard matters.”
The most interesting special teams battle of the Patriots’ off-season came in the battle for the punter position between Ryan Allen and Jake Bailey. After a remarkable Super Bowl performance, it seemed like Allen had the edge, but Belichick must see something he likes in Bailey because Allen was cut earlier this week in favor of the rookie punter. Expectations and pressure are going to be extremely high for his boot this season.
And lastly, there is kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who has been with the Patriots since 2006. He was once inarguably the league’s best kicker, but I do believe the change in the extra point rule threw him off completely. He is still among the best, undoubtedly. It’s just that the consistency in his kicks is not what it used to be. Re-signing with the Patriots after a 27-32 field goal season with a 49-50 extra point ratio, Gostkowski is still a better option than any other free agent kicker.
Image via Flickr / kristin