For years, Matthew Slater has been the leader of the New England Patriots’ kicking game units. But despite his status as a multi-year team captain and arguably the best special teamer in NFL history, the clock is ticking: at 38, his career is bound to come to an end soon.
No matter if he steps away after the 2023 season or at later point, Slater will leave a massive void in the Patriots locker room and within the club’s special teams operation. How that void will be filled remains to be seen, but it appears the team does at least have a candidate to take over a leadership role in the game’s third phase once he has called it a career.
That someone is Brenden Schooler. And while the torch has not officially been passed, one can very much get the impression that it is in the process of moving when listening to Slater speak about his young teammate.
“I think he’s been so consistent since he got here. I said it last year, and I’ve said it earlier this year, he’s a young guy who has really played like he belongs at this level since he got here,” Slater said about Schooler on Monday. “And he’ll only continue to get better as he understands the game and as he sees more looks, and gets used to teams game-planning for him. He’ll just get better and better.”
Two days later, the praise continued. This time speaking to reporters in the locker room, Slater explained how Schooler was able to develop into his possible successor over the last two years.
Matthew Slater spoke very highly of Brenden Schooler when asked what makes him such a standout, saying he’s glad he stuck around long enough to play with the young ST ace pic.twitter.com/3Dp2JZSvNm— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 25, 2023
“Skillset and mentality,” he said. “The Good Lord didn’t give us all the skills that he has in terms of his length, his speed, his quickness. But then I think what really sets him apart is his mental makeup, his understanding of the game, his football IQ, his toughness, and just his overall commitment to this football team. You can’t ask for a better teammate. You can’t ask for a player with better makeup.
“I say it all the time: I’m glad I stuck around long enough to play with him, and excited about what he’s going to do in the future.”
Schooler joined the Patriots off an eventful college career. Between his time at Oregon and Texas — plus a short offseason stint at Arizona — he appeared in a combined 61 games while seeing time at safety, wide receiver and on special teams.
But despite his immense experience and positional versatility, he flew under the radar entering the 2022 draft. He did not hear his name called, and had to enter rookie free agency before signing a three-year contract with just $15,000 in guarantees to move to New England.
Despite entering the NFL with little fanfare, Schooler quickly proved his potential in the kicking game. Regularly spending time with New England’s veteran special teams leaders such as Slater, he received considerable opportunities in training camp and preseason, and eventually was able to find his way onto the active roster.
From that point on, there was no removing Schooler from the Patriots’ kicking game operation. He was a regular on five units and finished his rookie campaign with 16 in-game appearances, 330 snaps — second behind only Slater — and a team-high 14 tackles and three takeaways.
His sophomore campaign continues to be more of the same. Schooler ranks first on the team with six tackles and has also registered a field goal block. In addition, he recovered a fumble to clinch the Patriots’ Week 7 win over the Buffalo Bills.
It is no surprise that Slater continuously speaks highly of the 26-year-old, and sees a bright future ahead of him.
“I’ve been so impressed with him, maybe as impressive as any young player I’ve ever played with,” said Slater this week. “It’s exciting to watch him do what he does. I think every week he’s looking to make plays. He has a ton of energy and we all feed off of that. So, hopefully, we can keep riding him around here for a long time.”