ANDERSON – On a 90-man roster that features 41 players either in their rookie or first NFL season, it is not a stretch that
In a Hall-of-Fame career, Vinatieri has authored moments many of his young teammates may have viewed on television.
The only NFL kicker to play in five Super Bowls and hit field goals in four of them is also one of approximately 30 players ever to earn four championship rings. His 1,752 points rank ninth in history, and he is just as vibrant now as in seasons past.
Still, young players see him in a different light, and that is fine with Vinatieri.
“There are a lot of them who tell me I’m probably about as old as their dads. You could say I’m a father figure when it comes to that. It’s fun,” said Vinatieri, 39. “I like having that older leadership role. There are a lot of young guys who ask me questions about camp, football in general and what it takes.
“Having that leadership role not maybe at their position but being that guy who can give some experience from seasons past and kind of get them headed in the right direction, that’s part of being one of the older guys and being a leader on the team.”
One key to staying young is to think that way. Another is to be immersed in the environment like Vinatieri is. He has found the club’s new culture fun, along with it being one that works.
“It does (feel like a fresh start),” said Vinatieri. “You look around and there’s a lot of new faces. Across the board from GM all the way down to the rookie free agents, there are a lot of new faces out on the field. It’s also a lot of fun. The intensity level is there.
“Coach Pagano is keeping it fun. It’s a lot of work. They’re working us pretty good. He’s also keeping the attitude light. There are some jokesters and some fun stuff out there, too. It’s not just all hard work. We’re learning, we’re getting better, and it’s fun to see that.”
Vinatieri has thrived throughout his career in two winning cultures in New England and Indianapolis. He has seen all manners of camps, teammates, practices and philosophies. His first week in 2012 training camp has been to Vinatieri’s liking.
“It’s actually been a real exciting week. We have a ton of young guys, so the competition level right now is really going full force,” said Vinatieri. “We have a lot of battles out there. You’ve probably noticed the chippiness maybe a little bit. That’s one thing that is different than in years past. There have been a few scraps. That shows the guys are really competing. When you have that many competitive guys who are trying to earn spots on the team, you get a little (bit of that), especially when it’s 100 degrees out there. Guys are on edge a little bit more.”
Vinatieri is more than a casual observer to the process. He keenly watches the team take shape, and that, too, provokes a thumbs up.
“It’s fun to see. The offense is making huge strides. The defense is showing that cocky, swagger thing you need on a good defense,” said Vinatieri. “I think every day the team is making great improvements and really moving in the right direction. It’s kind of neat to watch the whole team. There are a lot of new faces, but we’re really starting to come together and gel. You need that to be successful in this league.”
The veteran kicker is showing the pop in his leg that has made his career sparkle. Vinatieri stays in top physical shape in addition to his positive mental approach. He is a kicker who is juiced by competition and opportunity, and this season is no different.
“Every year is a new beginning and a new challenge. I’m enjoying it this year just like every other year. It’s fun with the new coaching staff and a lot of new faces,” said Vinatieri. “We’ve really put a lot of emphasis this year on becoming really good at special teams again. We drafted a couple of young guys. We’re putting more emphasis on it. It’s a 45-minute special team (session) at the beginning of practice rather than 15 minutes in the past.
“The expectation is there. We’re all doing everything we can. We don’t like to be average in anything. We don’t expect to be average on special teams either.”
Vinatieri is like all his teammates when the word “rebuilding” is dropped. The term is not part of his NFL vocabulary.
“I don’t think you try to rebuild ever. It’s one of those things when the league average is 3.2 years, nobody has rebuilding years left in them,” said Vinatieri. “The way I look at this year, we have a lot of good veteran players. We have a lot of young talent. I think our defense is really going to help us stay in games. I expect them to be that type of defense that causes havoc, causes turnovers and gives us opportunities to win games. I think our offense is going to put enough points up there to do it.
“I know there have been a lot of (media observers) who don’t think we’re going to do real good, but I think we’re going to be alright this year. Start it off early.”
Head Coach Chuck Pagano can see the savvy and experience of Vinatieri, and he uses that to better the team.
“He’s definitely a great sounding board for me. We can sit back and talk about a lot of things. He’s been in a lot of places. He was at a place (New England) that won a ton of games and a ton of championships. He’s got a lot to offer. He has a wealth of knowledge that if I weren’t there picking his brain on a lot of fronts, then it wouldn’t be very smart on my part.”