With all the recent chaos that is “deflategate” streaming through the media I thought it would be nice to focus a little on the actual action on the field. Since this whole debacle has orbited around Tom Brady I thought we could focus on the other guys. More specifically, the guys who don’t get all of attention, the gym rats that you might want to keep an eye on this upcoming year.
These are the players who day in and day out put in the work that we the fans never see. They’re not necessarily the super stars, but their contributions are unmatched. These are the guys who, to borrow a line from Al Pacino, ‘make the difference between winning, and losing’.
They embody everything that it means to be a Patriot, and they follow the mantra of, “do your job”, to a tee. During the course of the season these are the men who are going to win you games when the going gets tough, so please appreciate them because they’re what makes this whole machine run. They are the unsung heroes of the New England Patriots.
Matthew Slater, ST-
Matthew Slater has been a consistent force on special teams for years now, but it seems as if it has been just recently that people have started to take notice. Slater may be the embodiment of the “Patriot way”, and he shows it every Sunday.
Slater is used almost exclusively on special teams at this point in his career, but it doesn’t stop him from making a noticeable impact. He is able to use his speed and power to break away and track the return man before he even has a chance to advance the ball. While that may not seem like much just remember, he is double teamed on every single punt.
Slater is key to winning the field position battle, and in today’s NFL that cannot be overlooked. Think about the spark that the Pats get every time Edelman pulls off a great return. Now, think about how the opposing team never gets that emotional lift. Slater is always right there to shut the return man down. It might not be flashy, but it gets the job done.
And as if Slater couldn’t be more of a Patriots he also played a little safety for us back in the 2011 season. The same season that saw Julian Edelman at cornerback. Slater held his own and helped the Pats to reach the Super Bowl that year, but more importantly he showed that he would do whatever the team asked of him. That is a quality that is hard to find in the NFL these days, so I feel as though it is important to acknowledge it when it is present.
Mathew Slater is an integral part of this team, and as boring as punts may seem, please watch for number 18 because he is always there, making the right play.
Brian Stork, C-
Brian Stork is one of your classic tough and rumble style players who could care less if he gets the credit, as long as the job gets done. Stork was a fourth round selection in the 2014 NFL draft and made his debut with the Pats last year.
In a year that saw a tremendous amount of injury and substitution on the O-line, Stork was the one constant. His job at the center position last year was one the best played by a Patriot in the last ten years.
He is another player who, when he does his job, goes unnoticed. Playing on the offensive line is a thankless job and people only take notice when things are going wrong. As a rookie who was thrown into the fire early, Stork made very few mistakes. He and Brady were quickly able to get on the same page and click as though they had been playing together for years.
When the offense was struggling during the first four games of the year, it was thanks to players like Stork to help right the ship. Stork was a wall and was virtually impossible for defenders to beat. His skills were also put on display during the Patriots’ big run performances in games such as week 11 at Indianapolis. Assuming the worst, and Brady does indeed have to sit out the first four games, look to Stork to help pave the way for Blount and company as the Patriots turn to the run game for production.
If you haven’t had a chance to really get a good look at Stork, make sure you take the time this season to focus on that center position. He is a pleasure to watch, and true blue collar, hardworking, football player. He takes care of his business and is a key player in making this offense the juggernaut that we love.
Jamie Collins, LB-
The last player that I really wanted to touch on is none other than linebacker, Jamie Collins. Now I know Jamie Collins isn’t quit an unknown hero anymore, but you know what, this is my article so I’m going to talk about him.
Collins has quickly turned into one of my favorite players, and while he might not be an “unknown”, he is still not quit a household name, but he will be. After all, it is in this writer’s humble opinion that Jamie Collins is the best linebacker in the National Football League. Yup, that’s right. Better than Kuechly, better than Wagner, better than anyone.
And it’s not just my bias that has me convinced, although that does help, it’s Collins’ play on the field, week in and week out. Over the last year Collins has made a noticeable leap forward in his game and it helped to lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl victory. He transformed himself from a just a coverage linebacker to an every-down player. His improvement in the run game is the most noticeable of his advancements. His lightning quick instincts allow him to read and react at high speeds, and have allowed him to become an expert at shooting the gaps at the line of scrimmage.
It is this step forward in the run game that allowed him to record 116 total tackles last year, and cement himself as a fixture in the Patriots front seven.
Now don’t for a second think that he’s a one trick pony. His experience as a defensive back at Sothern Miss has helped him tremendously in the coverage game. He typically draws the opposing teams tight end or running back, and continually shuts them down, just ask Colby Fleener. At 6’6” his long limbs, and tremendous speed make him a matchup nightmare for any opposing offense, as they try to figure out how to pass around him.
Now the true reason for my confidence in Jamie Collins is his performance in week 14 vs the San Diego Chargers. The week prior saw Hightower suffer an injury, so it was Jamie Collins who received the green dot, and boy did he step up to the task. Collins recorded 9 total tackles, including 2 sacks and a forced fumble. He was an impact performer the entire night, but more importantly it showed that he was ready to handle the pressure of leading the defense on a big stage.
I am excited to see how Collins will improve for the 2015 season, but I know for a fact that the rest of the country will begin to recognize him as a legitimate force at linebacker, and one of the best defensive players in the league.
These are just three of the players that I wanted to highlight, but this roster is full of players who put in the man hours behind closed doors for the sole purpose of benefiting the team. Sure it’s great to root for guys like Gronk and Brady, but just don’t forget about the little guys because after all, they are the same type of people as those who make New England great.
By Jake Cianci