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Vinatieri plans to play this weekend; Gonzalez might be done for 2009

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Despite a season which has featured several young and talented players stepping up and making significant contributions in the face of veteran players going down with injury, for a team making a playoff run it is vital that all hands back on deck. For much of this season, future Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri and budding wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez have been on the shelf. Gonzo strained a knee tendon in Week One against the Jaguars, and after a set-up during rehab, he had surgery to scope the knee. Vinatieri, meanwhile, had been bothered by hip and knee problems. He had hip surgery this off-season, and during the season this year had the knee scoped.

This week, both men returned to practice, but the progress for both seems to be going in opposite directions.

According to John Oehser, via Twitter, Adam Vinatieri will play this weekend against the Jets. Because of the uncertainty of Vinaiteri's knee, the Colts will likely hold onto Matt Stover, the veteran kicker who the Colts signed while Vinatieri was on the mend. Stover has played extremely well in Vinaiteri's absence. While teams like the Cowboys, Redskins, and even Stover's former team, the Ravens, have struggled with kickers this season, the Colts have been able to sally forth sans Vinatieri mainly because Stover (at age 41) is still a clutch field goal kicker.

However, having Stover on the team is a bit of a double-edged sword.

The Colts have not seen Vinatieri make a clutch kick in several months. Will his knee hold up moving into January? Does he still have the range and distance to kick 50+ yard FGs to win games, as we saw him do last year? And, if Matt Stover is released, he will most certainly get scooped up by another team vying for playoff position. A team like the Ravens, Cowboys, or maybe even the Jets will certainly be interested in Stover.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Colts could keep both kickers on the playoff roster. With so much uncertainty surrounding the health of Vinatieri, and with Gonzo's season looking more and more like it is done (explained later in this article), keeping three kickers while heading into post-season play is not that bad of an idea.

The pro of keeping Vinatieri and Stover on the roster is you guarantee the Colts will not see Stover again this off-season kicking for an opponent. Plus, just from a sentimental point of view, Stover deserves to stay on this roster. His performance, and the leadership he has shown, have made his signing one of the under-the-radar feats of genius we are so accustomed to seeing from Bill Polian. He is well-liked and respected by the team, and he is also well-liked and respected by Vinatieri.

If there are still lingering doubts about Vinatieri's durability, the Colts could keep Stover and have him kick FGs of 45 yards or less. Stover has struggled kicking FGs over 45 yards in recent years while Vinatieri has not, especially in pressure situations. Also, if (heaven forbid) something were to happen to Pat McAfee, the Colts would not only be without a punter, they'd be without a kick-off specialist. Asking a 41-year-old player to kick-off and make FGs is a bit too much. So, keeping Vinatieri as a back-up for kick-off duties makes sense as well. Plus, in a pinch, Vinatieri could punt.

The only con I can think of is that people might get a little squirmy about using three roster spots for kickers. My response to that is the Colts have kept three roster spots for kickers all season, and they are currently 14-0. If it worked to get you this far, why alter things?

While the kicking situation seems reasonably sturdy, the situation with Anthony Gonzalez is anything but. All season long, Gonzo has worked and fought to get himself healthy. According to PhilB at the Indy Star, this is the week Gonzo needed to prove he was ready to play again. He practiced some on Monday, but it was the Wednesday practice that would likely determine how healthy he is.

On Wednesday, Gonzo didn't practice... like, at all. He also didn't talk to the media about it. Not good.

As most know, Gonzo didn't practice on Wednesday. He participated Monday, but that was a light workout. I cautioned in the chat that we would know more on Wednesday. And I think we do. That he didn't practice Wednesday is obviously not a good sign. Colts coach Jim Caldwell, when asked yesterday about Gonzalez, said, "Today, we'll see, but his road hasn't been an easy one." That is also obviously not promising.

I thought it odd at the time, after Gonzalez went down early in the season opener, Polian came out on his radio show and referred to the wide receiver as a "slow healer." I can't help but think this ticked Gonzo off.

Some could say his inability to return would back up Polian's position.

The "slow healer" tag Polian seemingly tossed on Gonzo is not something I remember from one of his radio shows this year. Anyone else hear about that?

Regardless of such an odd remark from Polian (especially since Gonzo sleeps in a friggin oxygen tent to accelerate healing), the fact of the matter is Gonzo must play against the Jets, or the Colts will likely IR him. It's certainly not fun to see one of my favorite players (and a guy who has averaged 13.2 yards a catch in his career thus far) struggle to get back on the field, but Gonzo needs at least two full games of real contact football before we can determine that he is playoff ready. We've been saying this for weeks, but I'm glad PhilB said it as well:

Nobody wants to see another Marvin Harrison-like playoff moment, when the injured receiver tried to make more out of a long gain against San Diego, with the Colts ahead 7-0 and seemingly driving in for another score, only to have the WR fumble away the scoring chance at the end of his run two years ago. Everybody remembers that well.

Based on the statements PhilB quotes from Jim Caldwell, for me the situation reads that if Gonzo is unable to play against the Jets, he will be IRed. I'd rather have that than have to deal with the uncertainty of Gonzo's health heading into the post-season. Also, factor in that Pierre Garçon and Austin Collie have developed into excellent wide outs in Gonzo's absence, and Hank Baskett (who plays mostly on special teams) is certainly no slouch either.

I hope Gonzo is able to get into another practice and hopefully suit up for the Jets game. However, if he doesn't, his 2009 season should be over. As I said with the Bob Sanders situation, the distraction of "will he, won't he" when it comes to playing while returning from an injury can often adversely affect a football team. Sometimes it is better to set a deadline for recovery, and if the player cannot meet that deadline, IR him and move on.

I think that is what Indy will do with Gonzo this year, but I still hold out some hope he will return soon.

[UPDATE]: Colts put Gonzo on IR. Tough to see happen, but glad it was handled quickly. --bbs