By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
On Monday night, the NFL released the would-be rosters for the 2020 Pro Bowl. That included two of the Patriots core special teams players – gunner Matthew Slater and punter Jake Bailey.
In a year that has been nothing short of unusual, it’s not surprising the one constant for Bill Belichick’s football team has been special teams. Part of that is due to Slater, a captain and the most tenured player on the roster. According to Belichick, he’s also the best to ever play the posotion.
“[He’s] got to be at the top. I can’t think of anybody that’s done more than he has,” Belichick told reporters on Tuesday when asked Slater’s standing all-time among special teams players. “He’s certainly the very best that I’ve ever been around and that we’ve had to play against as well.”
A former special teams coach, Belichick has focused heavily on the third phase of the game for most of his career. Still, he says “it’d be hard for me to imagine anybody going ahead of [Slater]…He’s done it over a very consistent period of time at an extremely high level…His leadership, just doing the right thing, just the person and the human being that he is, his competitiveness on the field – he’s a great teammate. Just outstanding in all areas.”
2020 marks the ninth time Slater has been named a Pro Bowl selection. That extends his record for the most as a special teams ace. Steve Tasker is second with seven.
While Slater is a seasoned pro when it comes to the Pro Bowl, this is Bailey’s first selection in just his second year in the league.
“He’s had an outstanding season,” Belichick said. “He’s got the big leg and the ability to change field position, but also situational punting, like he had in the Miami game.”
Belichick continued, noting Bailey’s impact extends beyond offensive fourth downs.
“He does a great job of really everything – kickoffs, holding, been part of Nick’s [Folk] consistency as well,” Belichick explained. “He does a lot of little things that are really, really important to the success of our special teams units and he’s had an outstanding year. The punting is obvious, but there’s a lot of other little things too that he does a great job of.”
Unfortunately there will be no actual Pro Bowl game being played this year due to COVID-19, meaning Slater and Bailey won’t get a last chance to show how they can alter games on a national stage. Instead, this year’s Pro Bowl will be held as a week-long virtual event featuring the selected rosters. Can Madden accurately capture the impacts made by the Patriots’ dynamic special teams unit? We’ll find out soon.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.