A New Era Of Special Teams Flourishing In Indy

Intro: The Colts special teams units are playing at an elite level in 2014. Who is the man, along with Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee, leading the Colts special teams operations?

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INDIANAPOLIS – It's a trifecta special teams coaches dream of.

There's your kicker, Adam Vinatieri in this case, knocking home 20-of-20 field goals in 2014. At the age of 41 and the oldest player in the NFL, Vinatieri has made a personal-best 26 straight field goals, adding another bullet point to an already-packed Hall of Fame resume. The man holding for Vinatieri isn't too shabby himself. Pat McAfee re-signed with the Colts this past summer with the visions of becoming the greatest punter in NFL his- tory. A statement that might make you roll your eyes just shows you the type of competitor the Colts have in McAfee. He is second in the NFL in net punting average of 43.6 yards and 46 kickoff touchbacks. He's already collected a special teams player of the month award and a special teams player of the week honor, thanks to that kicking prowess and an astonishing perfect onside kick rate (3-for-3).

Then there's the coverage units that have backed up the special teams efforts of Vinatieri and McAfee. The Colts lead the league in opponents' starting field position and have allowed a miniscule 4.1 yards per punt return. The coverage units have benefited from a core group of players that under- stand the dirty work it takes to play special teams. Even when core guys such as Sergio Brown and Andy Studebaker have been asked to fill in on the starting defense, the mantra of 'next man up' has been fulfilled.

Tom McMahon is the brains behind the Colts' special teams operations. Back in 2013, McAfee was entering his first NFL free agency and heard from McMahon, the then newly hired Colts special teams coach.

"He reached out to me and said, 'I want you back, buddy. I'm a huge fan of how you play. If you sign back with us, we are going to do some great things,' McAfee said, recalling the conversation.

"He's kept his word."

For Vinatieri, McMahon is the seventh special teams coach he has had in his 19 NFL seasons. When Vinatieri got wind that McMahon was coming to Indy, the kicker couldn't help but smile.

"His reputation preceded him, because when we played against them, we knew how good his units were," Vinatieri said of McMahon. "He pays attention to all the particular little things and tries to get an edge on things.

"I've been around a long time. I'd put him right there at the top of the list."

Some major uncertainty faced McMahon this offseason when both of his kickers hit the free agent market.

Those worries were squelched when the two inked back with the Colts.

Their 2014 Pro Bowl-type seasons aren't by happenstance.

Vinatieri sees McAfee on a daily basis and offers a complete description of the engaging punter.

"He clearly is the life of the party. He keeps the locker room so upbeat," Vinatieri said of McAfee. "He's always got a funny thing to say, a story to tell or something like that.

"The funny thing is, he can be that fun guy, but when he steps on the football field, it's all business. There's nobody that works harder than he does."

McAfee credits the 41-year-old Vinatieri for instilling some of that work ethic. When McAfee was drafted back in 2009, he remembers the fright that went through him before meeting Vinatieri.

"Whenever you're a kicker or a punter, you ask any little kid, 'Who's your hero as a kicker? It's Adam Vinatieri,'" McAfee said. "(Vinatieri) took me in and has been the coolest person ever. I try to be a sponge and learn from him.

"The guy is the most clutch person in the world, not even football, probably the history of the world and I just try to learn as much as I can from him."

When Jim Irsay hired Ryan Grigson as general manager back in 2012, the Colts' owner made it clear that an improvement in special teams was essential. Grigson took that to heart.

"To play for the Colts, you are going to have to contribute on special teams. That's the culture we have here," Grigson said. "Sometimes, those conversations have to be actually made with some of the players that think maybe they are too good for special teams.

"There's a prima donna-type that thinks they are too good for it, but not around here. That's something our coaches have done a great job with and that's cultivating this culture on special teams here, because you are not going to become a starter for us if you don't show up on special teams first."

Pat McAfee at the Colts Complex signing his new contract.

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