INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July upon us, and training camp right around the corner, it’s time for the Indianapolis Colts’ Burning Questions series.
We wrap up the series today with a look at the special teamers:
• How quickly can the Colts grasp the new kickoff rules?
In a nod to player safety, the NFL this offseason approved a new set of rules for the kickoff, a play that has had a high injury rate in years past.
Generally, here’s what’s new:
» Covering players cannot get a five-yard running start. Players now must wait at the 34-yard line until the ball is kicked.
» Blocking schemes will now be more like punts; eight of the 11 players on the receiving team must begin in a 15-yard zone near the 50-yard line and they will have to run downfield with the coverage team. No blocking can occur within the first 15 yards, which should lead to a significant decrease in high-speed collisions at the second level.
» The two players left on the receiving team that aren’t the returner can no longer utilize a wedge, or double-team, block.
» Returners no longer need to kneel in the end zone for a touchback. If the ball touches the ground in the end zone, it goes to the receiving team’s 25-yard line.
So with the kickoff rules being significantly different, the teams that are able to adjust the quickest — and learn how to best take advantage of the new rules — will obviously fare best.
It’ll be interesting to see how these rules look once training camp and the preseason come around; some believe there’s a chance it could lead to several more big returns. So new Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone is working hard to ensure his coverage teams figure out ways to contain dangerous returners, while he’s also scheming up ways in which his receiving team can open up holes and give his offense terrific field position.
• Who’s going to be the Colts’ primary returner(s) this season?
Both the kickoff returner and punt returner jobs appear to be wide open for the taking heading into training camp.
The last couple seasons, the team headed into the start of the season with wide receiver Quan Bray as its kick and punt returner, but injuries would severely limit his opportunities both years. In both instances, for the most part, fellow wide receiver Chester Rogers filled in (with a few other players also getting shots at the kick returner spot).
Rogers is back this year to try to win those jobs again, but he’ll face competition from several candidates. Fourth-round pick Nyheim Hines was dynamic as a returner at North Carolina State, and will definitely get a fair shake at kickoffs, while he’ll continue to work on his punt returns.
Others who could get opportunities to return during training camp and the preseason include running backs Marlon Mack, Josh Ferguson and Christine Michael, and wide receiver Deon Cain.
And don’t be surprised to see wide receiver T.Y. Hilton back fielding punts at some point during practice. Remember: Hilton was the Colts’ primary punt returner his rookie year in 2012 and averaged 11.5 yards per return and had a touchdown, and he also returned 17 punts the following season.
If nobody eventually sticks at that particular spot, the sure-handed (and explosive) Hilton could very well be an option there early on.
• When will Adam Vinatieri break the NFL’s all-time scoring and field goal records?
Adam Vinatieri enters the 2018 season extremely close to becoming the NFL’s all-time leader in scoring and made field goals.
But just when could we expect those records to fall?
We’ll use the last five seasons as a jumping-off point:
» Vinatieri has scored, on average, 124 points a season since 2013. He needs 58 points to pass Morten Andersen (2,544) for the most in league history, so, going by the averages, Vinatieri could very well be breaking this record by Week 7 or 8 (and, remember, the Colts’ bye week is Week 9).
» Vinatieri has averaged just more than 29 made field goals per season since 2013, and needs seven converted field goals to pass Andersen (565) for that all-time record, as well. So, according to my math, Vintateri could very well become the NFL’s all-time leader in made field goals by Week 4 or 5.