New England Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater has made a career out of special teams.
Slater has made one reception in his eight years with the Patriots, but made his mark by earning a Pro Bowl selection in each of the past five seasons as a special teamer.
With the NFL instituting a new kickoff rule that will hope to entice teams to concede a touch back instead of returning the ball, Slater is not happy about the change to the way he, and others, have made a living.
"I'm very disappointed, obviously, in the way we're discussing the future of the kickoff," Slater told Mike Reiss of ESPN on Thursday. "The kickoff is a big part of the history of the NFL and the history of football. For us to be sitting here talking about maybe doing away with the kickoff, it's very disappointing."
Slater is somewhat of a football historian, growing up as the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater, and has enjoyed being part of a niche group of career special teamers.
"I can think about days all the way back to watching my dad and thinking of returners like Ron Brown and people of that nature that made a career out of doing this," Slater said. "You think about Steve Tasker (who played most of his career with the Buffalo Bills) and his impact on the game of football, Bill Bates (of the Dallas Cowboys) - the list goes on.
"The kicking game has meant a lot to the game of football and a lot of players individually and has enabled guys to have careers. You think about (longtime Miami Dolphin and New England Patriot) Larry Izzo, you think about myself. Without the kicking game, we don't have a career. I'm very disappointed with some of the things I hear in regards to getting rid of the kickoff. I surely hope that's not the case. I hope that's not the direction we're moving in, but we'll see."
Slater admits that there is a chance that teams could still return kicks and understands the temptation not to.
"Field position is big in the game of football," said Slater. "If you're just handing some of the great quarterbacks in this league an extra five yards, I think it certainly changes the game. I certainly don't want to give Tom Brady the ball on the 25-yard line. I'd rather him have it on the 20 if I'm playing against him or behind the 20. ...
"You're adding an additional five percent of the field to the offense. I don't feel like that's the best thing for the game. But I understand they're trying to do what's best in terms of health and safety, and I respect that. There's nothing more important than the health and safety of our players, but I do not think the kickoff is a hazard that we need to be thinking of getting rid of."
Images Courtesy of Keystone Press