In anticipation of the Indianapolis Colts reporting for training camp Tuesday at Anderson University, ColtsBlitz.com will offer a series of analytical outlooks on position groups.
This final installment takes a look at the Colts’ specialists.
SPECIALISTS ON ROSTER: Kicker Adam Vinatieri (21st season), punter/kickoffs/holder Pat McAfee (eighth season), long snapper Matt Overton (fifth season), kickoff returner Jordan Todman (fourth season), kickoff/punt returner Quan Bray (second season), kickoff/punt returner Phillip Dorsett (second season).
LAST YEAR: Vinatieri continued to live up to his “Mr. Clutch” nickname as arguably the greatest pressure kicker in NFL history as he converted 25-of-27 field goals (92.6 percent). His game-winning field goal at Atlanta was the 26th in the final minute of regulation or overtime in his legendary career. But the NFL’s oldest player, who turned 43 in December, also showed he’s human, just like many other kickers who had to adjust to extra points being moved back to the 15-yard line, which meant 33-yard PATs. Vinatieri made 32-of-35 PATs (91.4 percent); he had missed just 10 PATs in 720 attempts in the previous 19 seasons. McAfee was named to the All-Pro first team for the second consecutive season as he averaged 47.7 yards on 85 punts with a net average of 41.7 yards and 28 downed inside the 20-yard line. As a kickoff specialist, “Boomstick” boomed touchbacks on 67 of 77 kicks. Overton, the third member of what the Colts refer to as their “Fourth Down Army,” continued his flawless snapping. Bray, who spent the first two months on the practice squad, was signed to the active roster when Dorsett was injured and developed into a solid returner with a 27.1-yard kickoff return average as well as 7.9-yard punt return average.
TWO MORE YEARS: Vinatieri didn’t just want to return for one season. He pushed for two. The Colts obliged and he signed for $6 million. Just $1 million is guaranteed, so should Vinatieri suddenly show his age and struggle, the Colts can save $2.75 million of cap space by cutting him next offseason. But Vinatieri hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and seems a safer bet to continue his legacy of consistency through 2017. As soon as he does retire, expect to see him make an appearance in Canton, Ohio, where he’ll become just the second true kicker to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
OUTLOOK: As far as the first three jobs go, this is the area of least concern for the Colts as Vinatieri, McAfee and Overton are as solid a specialist trio as any in the league. The Colts couldn’t be more confident when Vinatieri is kicking, especially with a game on the line. And the ageless one can still make the longest kickers, converting four-of-five from 50-or-more yards last season. McAfee has mastered putting for hang time, which minimizes returns, and it’s a surprise when any of his kickoffs aren’t touchbacks. The only preseason competition will be at returner, where Bray likely starts out as the guy but Todman likely gets a look because he’s returned 69 career kicks elsewhere. Dorsett, highly touted as a returner when the wide receiver was drafted in the first round in 2015, didn’t get much of a chance to show those skills as a rookie. Aside from suffering a fractured fibula and missing extended time, the Colts wanted him to concentrate more on catching passes. But in a pinch, Dorsett as well as wide receiver T.Y. Hilton have the blazing speed and elusiveness to be excellent returners. Hilton had a 75-yard TD punt return as a rookie in 2012.
POSITIVE SPIN: Business as usual means Vinatieri kicks game-winning field goals, McAfee pins opponents deep on punts and doesn’t allow kickoff returns with touchbacks and Overton doesn’t get noticed because each snap is perfect. Bray doesn’t give the Colts any reason to turn to anyone else as he continually delivers in the return game.
NEGATIVE SPIN: Vinatieri shows his age (if that’s possible), McAfee is a bit off his game (because Mr. Personality can get caught up in the spotlight at times) and Overton actually has one bad snap (which would be the first in a long time). Bray is unable to give the Colts consistently positive field position on returns, necessitating yet another revolving door of players trying to prove they can help the team on kickoff and punt returns. In the past, when returns have been so poor, fans just hoped the returner didn’t fumble. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.