INDIANAPOLIS — Chase McLaughlin is no longer just the capable fill-in guy buying time until he's sent packing once again.
Nah, this time McLaughlin can relax — well, as much as a kicker in today's NFL can relax, that is.
With legendary kicker Adam Vinatieri officially being placed on injured reserve earlier in the week, McLaughlin is set to handle field goal and extra-point duties for the Indianapolis Colts for the remaining three games of the regular season, giving him a bit of stability he didn't have for the majority of his rookie season.
"Yeah, I mean, it's nice," McLaughlin told Colts.com this week. "I'm going to get to take a breath and know that I have a few games to kind of get comfortable. But at the end of the day it's still work; you've gotta go out there and make every kick and take advantage of every opportunity."
McLaughlin was claimed off waivers by the Colts on Dec. 4 after Vinatieri continued to deal with a nagging injury to his left knee; Vinatieri was eventually ruled out of last Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — his first missed game in almost 10 years — paving the way for McLaughlin to make his Colts debut.
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 at Raymond James Stadium.
The Colts elected to place Vinatieri on IR on Monday; he was expected to undergo surgery at some point soon thereafter. McLaughlin remains as the only kicker on the Colts' 53-man roster, giving him a chance to continue a late-season audition of sorts moving forward.
"I thought he did well," Reich said of McLaughlin's Colts debut against the Buccaneers. "Obviously that one kick was – the first kick, the 50-yarder was not an easy kick. A little bit of a breeze in the face, but hit it well. So I thought he looked good."
This opportunity with the Colts is the first time this season McLaughlin hasn't been utilized in more of a "rental" mode; after going undrafted out of Illinois, he signed with the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 1 and ended up playing in four games there before their regular kicker, Mike Badgley, was able to return from a groin injury.
McLaughlin was then picked up by the San Francisco 49ers, who needed help at kicker after Robbie Gould went down with a quadriceps injury. McLaughlin lasted three games with the 49ers before being waived to make way for the veteran Gould.
In eight total games this season, McLaughlin has connected on 15-of-20 field goals (75 percent) and is tied for the league lead in extra-point conversion percentage (100; 18-of-18).
McLaughlin said he already feels "comfortable" with the primary members of the Colts' kicking unit: snapper Luke Rhodes and holder Rigoberto Sanchez. Having already experienced a midseason change now three times, McLaughlin has learned just how important it is to get plenty of reps with your snapper and holder.
"Getting comfortable with guys is just doing a bunch of reps, and then tweaking from there," McLaughlin said "(Rhodes and Sanchez) do great, obviously. The thing is every kicker likes the ball held a little differently; the timing is very important and crucial. So, yeah, just getting more time with them and more reps it's becoming more and more smooth."
While staying put with one team an entire season is obviously ideal, McLaughlin knew coming out of college that a few moves during his rookie season "was definitely a possibility."
But by keeping a positive mindset about the experience, McLaughlin has been able to show what he's made of to this point — and hopes to end his first NFL season on a strong note in Indy.
"It's a part of the NFL; things like this can happen," he said. "Is this how I envisioned it? Absolutely not, but I love every second of it. Just having different teams and different people keep believing in me is great, because for a lot guys it's kind of a one-and-done type of thing, but to keep getting opportunities, I really appreciate it and I'm excited to keep developing and keep moving forward."