This afternoon's practice was special teams only, and Phil Wilson probably summed it up the best:
Quick STs practice at #Colts camp this afternoon. Didn't last more than 45 minutes. Kinda hot and humid. No updates on anything else.
But, in our obsessive compulsive effort to report on all training camp practices at Anderson, we will take this opportunity to discuss how the special teams are shaping up.
As we expected, Pat McAfee has looked outstanding in camp, booming punts and nailing kick-offs. McAfee was an unsung weapon for the Colts last year, improving the team's field position and providing a much needed upgrade over former-Colts punter Hunter Smith. Hunter certainly wasn't a bad punter, but what he couldn't offer was McAfee's ability to kick-off. By allowing Adam Vinatieri the ability to focus solely on place kicking, it will likely increase his longevity in the league coming off multiple injuries that had him miss much of the 2009 season.
For Vinatieri, there will be more scrutiny on him this season than in season's past. He hasn't been healthy, truly healthy, since 2005. Even in 2006, his first year as Colts kicker, he was battling all sorts of injuries. The team had to sign Martin Gramatica for a period during the season while Vinatieri recovered. He returned to play out the rest of the season, including a marvelous performance in the post-season. He tied an NFL playoff record against the Baltimore Ravens by going 5-5 on field goals.
The scrutiny on AV is the same people will have for Bob Sanders: Can they stay healthy? The early prognosis is both look and feel great. Said Vinatieri earlier today:
'I don't have anything that's bothering me,' Vinatieri said. 'And when we're out there and we're nice and loose and warm, it feels like it should.'
After the jump, more special teams chit-chat...
The key element of the special teams this off-season is the Colts investment in finding a truly dynamic kick and punt returner. In general, the team is happy with their punter and kicker. They were NOT happy with the (lack of) punt and kick return yardage last season. Using Football Outsiders, the Colts were a putrid -1.6 on kick returns and a -5.8 on punts returns.
In camp, 7th round pick Ray Fisher has started to dazzle on-lookers in Anderson with his kick returns. On punts, Brandon James is pretty much a lock to get the job unless, of course, he goes out in a pre-season game and fumbles the ball all over the place. Both Fisher and James clearly stand out on return drills.
The other players vying for a job as a returner are Blair White, Sam Giguere, and (surprisingly) Anthony Gonzalez. Don't be surprised to see the Colts use Gonzo as a returner in special situations. Gonzo has very good speed, and is especially good with yards after contact. He also has sure hands.
Devin Moore is looking to win a job as a returner, but I haven't seen many folks make note of him in their camp reports.
Now, obviously, all of the observations are coming from fans and media people (aka, people who are not coaches who are paid lots of money to make decisions about the roster). So, take these notes for what they are. However, if excellence on the practice field is obvious to fans, you'd think that it would be VERY obvious to coaches. Anything can happen between now and September, but the way things seem to be shaking out tells me that Pat McAfee will be the punter, Adam Vinatieri the kicker, Brandon James the punt returner, and Ray Fisher the kick returner.
We shall see if the final result matches these early August observations.