FOXBORO - Change is inevitable on the roster of any NFL team, but there are some constants.
One of them for the New England Patriots is Matthew Slater, the special teams captain, who will be playing in his eighth season opener in nine campaigns when the Patriots take on the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday night (8:30 p.m.; Ch. 7, 10).
"It's a blessing," Slater said. "I think every player, your goal at the beginning of the year is to be a part of this team moving forward for that season, and I know I'm thankful to be a part of it and excited about what the coming weeks and months are going to hold. You never take this for granted. So many people have this dream and very few get to live it so just thank the Lord for another season."
Slater, a fifth-round draft choice out of UCLA in 2008, missed his second season's opener due to a training-camp injury. Otherwise, he's been a fixture on the Patriots' special teams for the length of his career, and was recently rewarded for it with a one-year contract extension.
"It's the beginning of a journey," Slater said of the coming new season. "There's a lot of uncertainty. We don't know what's going to happen. And I think that's what makes it kind of fun.
"If you knew what was going to happen, it wouldn't be worth it," he added. "So we're excited about the journey. We look forward to the challenges that lie ahead and we just take it one day at a time."
Slater is part of the leadership core of the Patriots and one of the more respected players on the team, as well as a past winner of the Ron Burton Community Service Award. But he always defers to the team when asked about his individual contributions.
"I think the leadership on this team, starting with Coach (Bill) Belichick, is excellent," he said. "He does a good job of just getting the team focused and living in the moment and not looking past the day, and I think this team has embraced that mentality and tried to do the best we can with the cards we've been dealt."
Slater said he's looking forward to the upturn in intensity that naturally follows the start of the regular season.
"It's a big change," he said. "The preparation changes. The focus changes. And obviously, come Sunday, the speed of the game changes and what's at stake changes. It's night and day from the preseason.
"I think us veterans understand that," he added. "And hopefully we get the young players to understand that as well, and all of us just need to do a good job of preparing ourselves just one day at a time."
Slater also commented briefly about the four-game suspensions being served by quarterback Tom Brady (Deflategate penalty) and defensive end Rob Ninkovich (PED positive test), although without touching upon the individual situations. He offered support for Ninkovich, whom he considers a close friend, while also saying that players have to be vigilant in guarding against situations that can take them off the field.
"There's always room for improvement in whatever it is that you do in life," Slater said. "There's room for improvement for us as professionals. What I do, what you guys do, there's room for improvement so, yes, there's room for improvement in that area. What that looks like, it's not for me to say.
"That's a little bit above my pay grade, so we'll see what happens moving forward," he said. "We want what's best, obviously, for the shield and that's very important, but we always want what's best for our players. But at the same time, integrity and doing things the right way is something that's important to all of us."