INDIANAPOLIS IN - JANUARY 08: Adam Vinatieri #4 of the Indianapolis Colts reacts after he kicked a successful 50-yard field goal in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 8 2011 in Indianapolis Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Today we wrap up our position by position breakdowns looking at the current talent on the Indianapolis Colts' roster and previewing the battles that may take place in training camp. Today we look at the special teams.
We wrap up our position breakdowns today with special teams as we get ready for players reporting to camp this Saturday.
The Colts' special teams are much unchanged, besides for the team bringing in numerous options to return kicks.
At kicker, of course, is future hall of famer Adam Vinatieri (yes, I believe he will get inducted into Canton). The 39 year old former Patriot is a four time super bowl winner (three with New England, one with Indianapolis) and is widely regarded as the most clutch kicker in National Football League history. In 2010, Vinatieri had what is arguably his greatest season and the greatest ever by a Colts kicker. He made 26 out of 28 field goals, and both misses came in the same game (a Sunday night game at Washington in which he made 2 out of 4 kicks). In the wild card playoff game against the New York Jets, he made 3 out of 3 kicks, including an incredible 50 yarder with less than one minute left to give the Colts the lead (which they promptly blew). In 2011, Vinatieri cooled off a little, making 23 out of 27 kicks including a long of 53 yards, but a kicker who makes 85.2 percent of his kicks is more than good enough. I see no reason at all to worry about Adam Vinatieri.
Fan favorite Pat McAfee will handle the punting and kickoff duties once again this season. In his third season, McAfee had a career year, averaging 46.6 yards per punt on the season, all the while punting much more than he had in his first two years. He pinned 21 kicks inside the 20 yard line, along with 3 touchbacks. One punt was returned for a touchdown. McAfee is also one of the best kickoff guys in the NFL, and last year led the Colts in special teams tackles. He also saved the most special teams touchdowns of any player in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. Added to his great season, he tore his meniscus in his kicking leg in week 8 but finished the season. Talk about tough. Just like Vinatieri, McAfee is absolutely locked in at punter. Undrafted rookie Brian Stahovich out of San Diego State is currently on the Colts' roster, but purely as a camp body. There is no way he unseats McAfee, besides for an injury.
On that note, I am a bit surprised the Colts have not added another kicker to ease Vinatieri's preseason load. Since they have not, I expect McAfee to handle some of the kicking from Vinatieri in the preseason.
I also do not expect the kick and punt coverage to be much improved in 2012. This team is focused on finding players to fill starting roles, and special teamers are depth players (like Tim Tebow... or something like that). Expect the backup linebackers to provide the bulk of the special teams coverage. Regardless of who is covering kicks, however, Pat McAfee will still be there to save the day...
The Colts brought in many options at kick and punt returner this offseason. In fact, everybody who seems to be in competition for the return duties are new to the Colts. At kick returner, corner Cassius Vaughn, rookie wide receiver LaVon Brazill, receiver Donnie Avery and rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton will get the most looks. At punt returner, Vaughn, undrafted rookie receiver Jabin Sambrano, running back Deji Karim, safety Tom Zbikowski, and Hilton all look to factor into the training camp battle.
I expect T.Y. Hilton to be returning kicks, and possibly punts as well.
Colts fans are used to bad special teams play, especially in the return game, and there is not much reason for optimism this year. But the kicking tandem of Vinatieri and McAfee is a very good one, and the Colts are building towards the future. A lot of times, the last thing to come is special teams play. So be patient.
In my opinion, special teams will not be a glaring weakness of the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, but it will not be a strength either.