I guess this expression comes into play right now: Desperate times call for drastic measures.
This past week against the Indianapolis Colts, the New England Patriots were forced to start wide receiver and special teams captain Matthew Slater at safety. Entering the game, the Patriots had five defensive backs on the injury report, which ultimately opened the door for Slater to get the spot-start.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots are known for using players in multiple different positions, such as using an offensive linemen or a defensive linemen as a fullback on a goal-line situation or throwing a wide receiver out at cornerback—but we have never seen Belichick actually start a wide receiver at safety during his reign here in New England.
To be honest, I was actually very impressed with the solid play out of Slater, despite the overall pass defense struggling and allowing 21 points in the fourth quarter as well as allowing Dan Orlovsky to throw for a whopping 353 yards.
Slater finished the game with a team-high six tackles as well as forcing one fumble—this is how badly the injury bug as bit the Patriots this season, a wide receiver finishes with the most tackles in the game.
In previous weeks, we have seen the Patriots roll out wide receiver Julian Edelman at cornerback, but I had never thought that we'd see Slater out there at safety. That being said, he answered the call and shone.
Slater has been rarely used at wide receiver this season, as he only has one reception for 46 yards, but he has been a strong force on special teams.
Earlier in the week prior to the game, Slater was approached by coaches about the possible start at safety, and he openly took on the challenge:
"It's just one of those things when I've known since I've been here: just to be ready to do whatever they ask me to do...I know I'm a role player on this team, and whatever role they need me to do, that's what I'm going to do."
With Slater showing that he can play safety and not be a complete liability, is he the answer at the team's under-performing position for the remainder of the season?
To answer this in a simple way—I sure as hell hope not.
However, Slater said it best, he is a role player—and if he is asked to play safety here and there, I believe that there will not be any problems and he will actually perform at a decent level.
With the playoffs right around the corner as the NFL season is coming to an end, we can only hope that Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo will regain some health.
However, Slater did prove Sunday that he can play the safety position, and I actually believe in time that he can flourish, as he's one of the top special teams players in the NFL today with his stout tackling ability, speed and overall athleticism.
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