ORLANDO, Fla. – Selected to eight Pro Bowls as a special-teams player with the Patriots, Matthew Slater knows great return specialists and gunners when he sees them.
It's extremely unusual for the same individual to fit both categories, but that's exactly how Slater describes veteran Bears star Cordarrelle Patterson.
"It is rare," Slater told ChicagoBears.com at the Pro Bowl. "Oftentimes returners don't embrace that physicality and the grunt work that happens on the outside. But I think for a guy to be an All-Pro as a kick returner and as a special-teams guy says a lot about who he is and what makes him tick and what makes him go."
Slater played with Patterson on the Super-Bowl champion Patriots in 2018 and watched his former teammate thrive in his first season with the Bears a year later.
In 2019, Patterson ranked second in the NFL with a 29.5-yard average on 28 kickoff returns, including a 102-yard touchdown against the Saints, and led the league with 825 kick-return yards. He also excelled as a gunner, a major factor in his selection as the NFC's special-teams player in the Pro Bowl.
"To see some of the things he was doing as a gunner this year, I was watching the tape and I was like, 'Man, this is awesome.'" Slater said. "Chicago really has a rare player in 'CP.' He's one of the unique guys that this league has ever seen. I couldn't be prouder to call him a friend and to say I played with a guy like that."
Remembering Walter: Slater also spoke glowingly about legendary Bears running back Walter Payton. Slater's father, Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater, blocked for Payton at Jackson State University.
"Many, many years ago I met Walter," Slater said. "My mom and dad both went to Jackson State and they speak so highly of him and his family. My dad really feels he owes a lot of the opportunity that he got to Walter because scouts were coming to watch Walter Payton and they were like, 'That guy Slater, he's OK.'"
Slater, of course, was much better than OK; he was voted to seven Pro Bowls during an illustrious 20-year career with the Rams from 1976-95 and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2001.
"I'm thankful that my dad had that experience and that time there at Jackson State with [Payton]," Slater said. "I think the way [Payton] did it on and off the field is second to none. He was a class act. His legacy goes well beyond what happened between the white lines. It's an honor to have my family's name associated with his. I have nothing but respect for him and all the things he stood for."
Top seller: According to NFLshop.com, Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack ranks fourth among the NFL's top selling jerseys during the 2019 season. Mack, who was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl but pulled out of the game due to an undisclosed injury, is the only defensive player in the top 10.
Mack led the Bears in 2019 with 8.5 sacks, eight tackles-for-loss, five forced fumbles and 14 quarterback hits. His 21 sacks are the most by any Bears player in his first two seasons with the team.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady boasts the NFL's top-selling jersey, ahead of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. After Mack at No. 4 are Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones and Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Unsung hero: NFL.com writer Adam Rank has selected an "unsung hero" for all 32 teams in the league. His choice for the Bears is receiver Allen Robinson, who led the team with a career-high 98 receptions for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019.
"Robinson's absence from the Pro Bowl is clearly preposterous after he had one of the best seasons of his career," Rank wrote.