INDIANAPOLIS — Imagine coming in as a rookie late in the season and being tasked with replacing not just a future Hall of Famer, but the greatest to ever play your position.
Chase McLaughlin had that very scenario on his plate when he was claimed off waivers by the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 4. With 24-year veteran Adam Vinatieri dealing with a knee injury that would eventually require surgery, McLaughlin was brought in to handle the Colts' kicking duties for the final four games of the season.
If McLaughlin had any nerves about the situation, he certainly didn't show it. He would excel down the stretch for the Colts, hitting five of his six field goal attempts and all 11 extra-point tries — performing so well that he earned a one-year contract extension that gives him a chance to compete for Indy's kicking job heading into 2020.
"I'm happy with Chase," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said of McLaughlin Jan. 2 in his end-of-season press conference. "You come in and you have to follow Adam Vinatieri, you've got a little something to you. He's got a really calm demeanor, he's got a process that he goes through to kick. We like Chase."
McLaughlin, who went undrafted out of Illinois, would be utilized by two other teams — the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers — as a temporary replacement his rookie season as their respective kickers worked their way back from injury. In seven total games on the West Coast, McLaughlin converted 13-of-17 (76.5 percent) of his field goal attempts, with a long of 50 yards, and hit all 15 of his extra-point tries.
With their regular kicker, Robbie Gould, ready to go after recovering from a quadriceps injury, the 49ers placed McLaughlin on waivers on Dec. 3. It was good timing for the Colts, as a knee injury that had kept Vinatieri out of a couple weeks of training camp, and three of four preseason games, would flare up again during the Colts' Week 13 game against the Tennessee Titans.
The Colts were awarded McLaughlin on waivers on Dec. 4. Just four days later, with Vinatieri missing his first game in almost 10 years, the rookie McLaughlin would connect on 5-of-6 total kicks, including 2-of-3 field goals (connecting from 19 and 50 yards, respectively, and missing from 47 yards) and all three of his extra-point tries in Indy's 38-35 Week 14 road loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
McLaughlin wouldn't miss a single kick over the Colts' final three games, going 3-for-3 on field goals and 8-for-8 on extra points. In all, he hit 18-of-23 (78.3 percent) of his field goal attempts and all 26 extra-point tries in 11 games with the Chargers, 49ers and Colts, and was selected to Pro Football Focus’ 2019 All-Rookie Team.
While McLaughlin isn't just being handed the Colts' kicking job moving forward, he certainly didn't do anything to hurt his chances heading into the offseason.
"I mean, we will evaluate that going forward," head coach Frank Reich said. "Chase did an excellent job. He did an excellent job. He stepped in and he did a good job. That all gets factored in, but for the short time he was here he did well."