INDIANAPOLIS — With the month of July upon us, and the start of training camp now within sight, it's time for the Indianapolis Colts' Burning Questions series.
We conclude today with the special teamers:
» Who could become the Colts' first new Week 1 kicker since 2005?
For the past 14 seasons, the Colts relied upon Adam Vinatieri to knock kicks through the uprights, something he's done better than any other player in NFL history. But late last season, with Vinatieri requiring knee surgery, the team handed over the reins to then-rookie Chase McLaughlin, who was able to make the most of his opportunities over the final four weeks of the year. While Vinatieri, who continues recovering from surgery and is yet to make a decision on his playing status in 2020, became a free agent this offseason, the Colts signed former Georgia star kicker Rodrigo Blankenship as an undrafted free agent to compete with McLaughlin for the team's kicking job heading into training camp. Will the lack of any on-field work this offseason hurt Blankenship's chances of making the squad, or will he be able to make a splash in a relatively short amount of time? Or will McLaughlin's consistency he showed as a rookie continue to pay off in Year 2? Should be a terrific battle to keep an eye on.
» Who will win the kickoff returner job?
While we'll assume Nyheim Hines has a leg up as the punt returner heading into training camp — he returned nine punts in all for 281 yards, for an insane average of 31.2 yards per return, with a league-leading two touchdowns down the stretch last year — the Colts' kickoff returner job appears much more wide open. Zach Pascal (10 kickoff returns in 2019), Parris Campbell (seven) and Hines (six) all return to compete for that spot, but speedy wide receiver Ashton Dulin — who had three kickoff returns for 90 yards as an undrafted rookie last year — has also been mentioned in the past as a potential standout returner. The X-factor in this scenario could very well be Isaiah Rodgers. The 2020 sixth-round pick out of UMass has 4.28-second 40-yard dash speed, and was one of college football's top returners the past couple seasons. Last year, Rodgers logged a UMass single-season record 53 kickoff returns for 1,295 yards, ranking first in the nation among FBS players in those categories, while also adding a 42-yard punt return touchdown against Charlotte; Rodgers was named a First-Team All-American by Pro Football Focus as a kick returner. Rodgers certainly needs to earn a job at cornerback, too, but his abilities as a returner should certainly bolster his chances.
» How will special teams ability affect the depth at offensive and defensive position groups?
While offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus certainly make their cases for or against certain players as the Colts begin the process of cutting down to their Week 1 53-man roster, it's special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone's assessments that oftentimes can be the final deciding factor for head coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard. Should the Colts keep five or six wide receivers? Three or four tight ends? Five or six linebackers or cornerbacks? What about safeties? It usually depends on how much value those final few players at each position bring to the team's various special teams units. Jordan Glasgow will be an interesting test case to this process this year. A 2020 sixth-round pick out of Michigan, Glasgow was a standout linebacker for the Wolverines, but he really caught eyes with his play on special teams. The Colts are very deep at the linebacker position, but will they make room for a guy like Glasgow because of his special teams prowess?