Time marches on for all of us, and it might be catching up with Matthew Slater. He has been in the league nine years, and he’s been the special teams captain for… well, for longer than he probably wants to admit. He’s also been recognized league-wide, having made five straight Pro Bowls as a special teamer. Is Nate Ebner the heir apparent?
Slater has just one tackle in the kicking game this year. And if you look at the tape from the Buffalo game, the two returns Cyrus Jones took out of the end zone were both caused by Slater, not Jones.
Slater’s play is still nothing to be ashamed of. Special teams tackles aren’t the only measure of effective play — they can be about good fortune as much as effort. But given his age (31) and number of years in the league, it might be time to consider who will take over for Slater when the time comes.
Waiting on the sidelines
Nate Ebner is this year’s prime candidate for the role. The rugby Olympian has had a surprisingly stellar first-half of the year, with 10 special teams tackles, 7 individual and 3 assists, far and away the team’s leader. (Note: some sources credit him with 9 tackles, but the Patriots gamebooks list him with 10.)
Ebner is also younger than Slater (27), and special teams play is historically a younger player’s game. With five years in the NFL, Ebner has plenty of experience to be an effective leader. Additionally, his head coach obviously respects him; based on this photo from the summer:
In past years, Brandon King looked like he might succeed Slater. He and Slater often traded the lead in tackles back and forth during the year. But King has only one special teams tackle this year and his play so far this year has been spotty.
Slater will likely retain his captaincy for the remainder of the year. The Pats wouldn’t change mid-season, barring injury. But it never hurts to consider who might step in, so the job could move to Ebner next year or the year after.
Of course, if Ebner could fix the problems with Gostkowski’s kicking, then he’d be elevated immediately!