FOXBORO -- It's been an annual rite for Matthew Slater to be named to the Pro Bowl as one of the game's top special teams players. The Patriots special teams captain has earned that honor at the end of each of the last five seasons. But there could be another Patriots kicking-game standout joining him in that regard this year? Or there might there be a changing of the guard?
Patriots safety Nate Ebner is tied for the the league lead in special teams tackles (16) this season. He's also forced one fumble and recovered one as one of Bill Belichick's core special-teamers.
From inside the Patriots locker room on Tuesday, Slater advocated for his teammate to be named to the Pro Bowl this season. He'll find out one way or another when Pro Bowlers are announced Tuesday at 8 p.m.
"I think Nate deserves it," Slater said. "The way he’s played this year, I haven’t really seen anybody playing the way he’s played. I’m definitely pulling for him, and we’ll see how it goes."
Slater is in the running himself, but he missed two games after suffering a foot injury against the 49ers in Week 11 and thinks this may not be his year.
"I know what type of year it’s been for me, dealing with injuries and things like that," he said. "I'm always happy to see my teammates have success, and ultimately for the team goal. I think that’s what matters most for all of us. When a guy works hard, and he deserves it, you definitely pull for him."
Belichick seems to be in the same boat. He sang Ebner's praises during a conversation with WEEI's Dale and Holley Show with Rich Keefe on Monday, noting that Ebner put in a tremendous amount of work in order to get up to speed after missing most of training camp to participate in the Summer Olympics as a member of Team USA's rugby sevens squad.
"I'd say the thing about this year that has been really special about Nate," Belichick said, "was that, first of all, he wasn't here at all during the spring. He wasn't here for the majority of training camp. But when he got here, he attacked his job and his role on the team with a great deal of urgency. He felt that he'd fallen behind.
"He had a great experience at the Olympics. It's something he wanted to do. It's something he and I talked about. And I was 100 percent behind it and our team was 100 percent behind him doing that. But once that was over and he shifted his gears and his attention to our football team, he had just a tremendous urgency to, in his mind, make up for the ground he was behind on from the Olympic experience. He worked very hard and was very dedicated to making that up."