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2014 Colts Positional Preview: Special Teams

As we approach training camp, Stampede Blue’s Josh Wilson looks position by position at the Colts roster, looking at the talent they have and at how the final roster might play out. Today we look at the special teams.

Rob Carr

The approach the Colts took this offseason was the right one, and that approach was that they re-signed their own players first and then brought in a few others.  Two players that it was crucial they re-sign were kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee, both of whom are back this year to headline a very good kicking game for the Colts.

Vinatieri was brought back on a 2-year, $5 million deal, and if any kicker deserves to be paid it's the 41-year old Vinatieri.  In his 18-year career he has made 83% of the field goals he has attempted and has made a number of huge kicks, including two Super Bowl winners.  He is widely regarded as the greatest clutch kicker that has ever played, and that reputation has been evident in the eight years he has played in Indianapolis just as much as it was in his ten years with the Patriots, albeit without the magnitude of the Super Bowl game-winners.  With the Colts, he has made 84.5% of his kicks and last year he had one of his best career seasons, converting 35 of 40 field goals including going 19 of 23 from beyond 40 yards, easily the best in the league from that distance.  In 2012, he was 13 of 17 from 40+ yards out.  He is a team leader and a great kicker who figures once again to be a tremendous asset to the Colts in 2014.

McAfee was re-signed to a 5-year, $14.5 million deal this offseason, ensuring that he will continue his career in Indianapolis, where he has spent the past five seasons.  He has averaged 45.6 yards per punt and has had 116 punts downed inside the 20, along with 31 touchbacks.  The past two years he has really stood out, with an average of 48.2 yards per punt in 2012 with 26 punts downed inside the 20 and in 2013 averaging 46 yards per punt with 27 punts downed inside the 20.  McAfee is more than just a very good punter for the Colts, however - he's their kickoff specialist, another area he excels at, and he's also a team leader and fan favorite due to his great involvement in the community.  And, as a bonus, he's also a great hitter for a punter, seen when he laid out Broncos return man Trindon Holliday last season.  McAfee is a great weapon for the Colts.

The long snapper who gets the ball to Vinatieri and McAfee, Matt Overton, was a Pro Bowler in 2013.  He had a good season yet again in 2013, his second year with the Colts, and he helped Vinatieri set a career high with 35 field goals and McAfee set a career high with 27 punts downed inside the 20.  Overton is also a guy who you'll see down the field helping to make the tackle, and in his two seasons with the Colts (in which he hasn't missed a single game) he has made 14 special teams tackles.  He too, like both Vinatieri and McAfee, is a great guy both on and off the field.

While there's really no competition whatsoever at the kicker, punter, and long snapper spots, there's another kicker on the roster right now who will be around for a bit in training camp so that Vinatieri doesn't wear out his leg.  Cody Parkey's only chance at making the roster is if Vinatieri gets hurt (which wouldn't be good for the Colts), but that doesn't mean he doesn't have potential.  Here's what I wrote about him in my look at the undrafted free agents:

Cody Parkey, K, Auburn

Parkey, a 6-0, 190 pound kicker, converted 14-of-19 field goals in his senior season, as well as 62-of-63 extra point attempts and 69 touchbacks, which led the country. At one point in his career he recorded a streak of 90 consecutive PATs converted, which led the SEC and ranked seventh in the country.  He was a three year starter at Auburn and ranks in the top five of all of the school's career kicking records.  He was named the most outstanding specialist at the Senior Bowl.  He has a very strong leg but he needs to get more accurate.

Outlook: Honestly, Parkey's only chance at making the team is by an injury to Adam Vinatieri in preseason or camp, and considering that he doesn't kick that much during that time, it seems very unlikely.  Teams only keep one kicker, and Vinatieri is unquestionably the team's starter - as he's one of the best to ever play the game and was terrific in 2013.  Parkey doesn't even have a remote chance at making the team as a kickoff specialist because punter Pat McAfee does a very good job at that as well.  Really, Parkey will be trying to impress another team enough to make their roster in 2013, or if not that then he'll be trying to impress the Colts enough to give him a shot after Vinatieri retires.

The last area we must look at when it comes to the Colts special teams is the return game.  The kicking game for the Colts is very good, with Vinatieri and McAfee leading the way, but when it comes to the return game, there are questions (as there always are with the Colts, it seems).  Most of the players who returned kicks for the Colts last year are gone now.  Of the four players who returned kickoffs for the Colts last year, only one is still on the roster (along with LaVon Brazill, but he's suspended now), and that's running back Chris Rainey, who faces an uphill battle to make the team.  In terms of punt returners, however, T.Y. Hilton, Griff Whalen, and Chris Rainey were the top three for the team in terms of number of punts returned, and they're all still there.  If the Colts could find someone else to step up and return instead of Hilton, that would be great, as he's a crucial part of the offense. That could be where Griff Whalen comes in, as it now seems that he has a good shot at making the roster.  Whalen returned one kick last year for 22 yards, and returned 8 punts for 104 yards, averaging 13 yards per return, with a long of 51.  Whalen wasn't anything special, but he brings experience in that area where the Colts could use some help.  Ultimately, the return battle will be decided in camp, but the Colts really don't have anyone that will make the roster because of their returning but rather it will be filled by someone at another position who can also return kicks.

The players who will make the team purely for special teams, however, are Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee, and Matt Overton, and those three are about as good as it gets in the league.

Week One Starters: Adam Vinatieri (K), Pat McAfee (P), Matt Overton (LS); Cut: Cody Parkey (K)

For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews: