Slater 'very disappointed' to hear kickoffs might be done away with


Slater 'very disappointed' to hear kickoffs might be done away with

FOXBORO -- Matthew Slater wants nothing more than for his teammates and opponents to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible. As the players union representative for the Patriots, he has fought for the safety of his peers. 

But when it comes to perserving players' health, Slater doesn't believe that eliminating the kickoff is the answer. That's where that particular play may be headed, however, after the NFL opted to move starting field position for teams to the 25-yard line after a touchback. The aim of the move is to reduce the number of kickoff returns, which are considered among the game's most dangerous plays.

Slater was asked about the rule change at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, and he vigorously defended what he considers a vital part of the game.

"There’s a lot of speculation as to the future of the kickoff," Slater said. "I know this year I think it’s going to be interesting to see how teams approach it because [the touchback] just gives the team the ball on the 25 [yard line]. That changes field position quite a bit. It seems like just five yards but it’s going to be interesting to see how we approach it and how other teams approach it.

"And I’m very disappointed, obviously, in the way that we’re discussing the future of the kickoff. The kickoff is a big part of the history of the NFL and the history of football, and for us to be sitting here talking about maybe doing away with the kickoff, it’s very disappointing. I can think about days all the way back to watching my dad when he played with the Rams and thinking of returners like Ron Brown and people of that nature that made a career out of doing this. You think about Steve Tasker and his impact on the game of football, Bill Bates, the list goes on.

"The kicking game has meant a lot to the game of football and to a lot of players individually and it’s enabled guys to have careers. You think about Larry Izzo, you think about myself. Without the kicking game we don’t have a career. I’m very disappointed in 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 that we’re moving in, but we’ll see."

The new touchback rule is considered by many to be a not-so-subtle nod to the fact that the league is hoping to eliminate the play altogether at some point. Giants owner John Mara put it very clearly earlier this offseason: The NFL may not want to wipe out all kickoffs at the moment, but that's where things might be headed.

"We're not at the point where we want to take the kickoff out of the game completely, although we may be moving in that direction," Mara told the Giants website. "One of the concerns is what do you do in a situation where you've scored late in the game and you’re down by less than a touchdown, and it takes away the onside kick. As I say, you could very well see the kickoff eliminated at some point in time in the future, but I don’t think we're at that point yet. It still does remain an exciting play, but it's also a dangerous play. Obviously concussions are on the top of our list in terms of our concerns for the game going forward.

"We thought we'd at least try this (spotting the ball at the 25) first. This was not going to pass when we took the initial straw vote on it. Then we changed it to, 'Let’s see what happens for one year.' So it’s in effect for one year. It ended up passing unanimously, again, for one year."

Slater admitted that he's not sure how the Patriots will go about executing their kickoffs in 2016. He did acknowledge that the NFL's plan could "backfire," though. If teams begin to aim their kicks shy of the goal line because they're not willing to kick into the end zone and give up the added five yards, the rule could actually lead to more returns. 

"That's a half of another first down," Slater said of the five-yard change. "Moving that thing up, that field position is so big. I'm not 100 percent familiar with the numbers, but I think drives that start at the 25 certainly do end in scoring more often than drives that start at the 20 or behind that.

"Football, to the common fan they may not understand this, but it's a game of field position . . . If you're just handing some of the great quarterbacks in this league an extra five yards, I think it 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. Field position is huge in this game. You're adding an additional five percent of the field to the offense. I don't feel that that's the best thing for the game.

"I understand that they're trying to do what's best in terms of health and safety, and I respect that. Obviously I'm our union rep here, so obviously I think 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 think about getting rid of."

Part of Slater's reasoning, which also may tug at him as a union leader: The eventual elimination of kickoffs could mean the eventual elimination of jobs like his and others that his teammates fill.

"I obviously have strong feelings about it because of what guys like myself are able to do," he said. "You think about how many times last year Brandon King ran down, made plays inside the 10, [Nate] Ebner making plays inside the 10 or inside the 20. That's a weapon for a football team when you have players like that. I think it's certainly taking away from, if you get rid of the kickoff, it takes away from what some of those cover guys are able to bring to the game of football."

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."