INDIANAPOLIS — With the Indianapolis Colts set to report to training camp in a few weeks, let's take a quick look at some building points for the team's special teams heading into the 2018 season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
• Despite the retirement of All-Pro punter Pat McAfee following the conclusion of the 2016 season, undrafted rookie Rigoberto Sanchez was able to fill in quite nicely. Sanchez ranked third in the NFL with a 43.1 net punting average, according to Pro Football Focus, while 30 of his 84 punts were downed inside the 20-yard line. Sanchez also allowed just 80 return yards on his punts, which was the second fewest in the NFL, while his 4.2 yards per return were tied for the fewest allowed. A PFWA All-Rookie Team selection, Sanchez, like his predecessor, seems to have established solid footing in Indianapolis. Another newcomer to the special teams unit that shined in 2017? Luke Rhodes. After converting over from linebacker, Rhodes gave long snapping a try for the first time since high school last season, and didn't appear to hit any major snags throughout the year.
• Adam Vinatieri continued to show no signs of slowing down in 2017, his 22nd year in the NFL and his 12th in Indy. The three-time Pro Bowler continued to move up the all-time charts in several categories throughout the season, and finished the year connecting on 29-of-34 field goals and 22-of-24 extra points, for 109 total points. After re-signing with the Colts this offseason, Vinatieri sits just 58 points shy of topping Morten Andersen (2,544) for the most points scored in NFL history, while he needs seven made field goals to pass Andersen (565) for all-time honors in that category, as well.
ITEMS TO BUILD UPON:
• The Colts' return game hopes to give its offense a better head start in 2018. Last season, the Colts began each drive, on average, from its own 27.4-yard line, a figure that ranked 22nd in the league. For comparison's sake, the Baltimore Ravens led the league with an average starting field position of their own 32.31-yard line. The Colts also had zero kickoff or punt returns for touchdowns; their 21.1 yards per kickoff return ranked 18th, while their six yards per punt return ranked 28th.
• The Colts' leading tackler on special teams was split three ways between Jeremiah George, Chris Milton and Kenny Moore II, each of whom had five special teams stops. But one can imagine new special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone is challenging his players to up the ante a bit in 2018. The leader in special teams tackles in 2017 was the Los Angeles Chargers' Nick Dzubnar, who had 21, followed by teammate Austin Ekeler, who had 17. Four players had 16 special teams tackles, two had 15, one had 14, two had 13, nine had 12, eight had 11 and 14 had 10; that's 42 players with at least 10 special teams stops throughout the year. The Colts hope to have at least one on that list by the time the 2018 season is completed.