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 2019 season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
» Rigoberto Sanchez is quietly becoming one of the best punters and kickoff specialists in the league. In his second NFL season in 2018, Sanchez punted the ball 57 times for 2,629 yards for an average of 46.1 yards per punt, while 24 of his punts were downed inside the 20. But what really matters in punting is the net average, and Sanchez's 42.7 net punting average ranked third in the NFL. Sanchez, who was rewarded with a contract extension on June 4, also had 59 kickoff touchbacks, which ranked fifth in the league.
» Sanchez's right leg was only part of the equation when it came to the Colts' solid coverage units throughout 2018, however. Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone's units ranked first in the NFL in lowest punt return average allowed (4.4 yards) — they were just one of three teams to not allow a punt return of 20-plus yards on the year — and opponents averaged just 22 yards per kickoff return against Indy, the ninth-lowest figure in the league. Those returning who were key in coverage include Matthew Adams, George Odum, Chris Milton and Zaire Franklin, as well as long snapper Luke Rhodes.
ITEMS TO BUILD UPON:
» The Colts had very few opportunities to return kickoffs throughout 2018 — their 17 total kickoff returns were the second fewest in the NFL — but when they did get a chance to take the ball out, they didn't break many past the touchback threshold. Indy's 19.8-yard average on kickoff returns ranked 29th in the league, and its longest return of 29 yards was the shortest among all 32 teams. Some of this could be by design, as many teams tried to continue taking advantage of the newer rule moving touchbacks up five yards to the 25-yard line, and the Colts, on average, began their offensive drives at the 29.26-yard line, the ninth-best starting field position in the league.
» Some untimely penalties derailed what could've been huge special teams plays at various junctures throughout the 2018 season, but particularly against AFC South Division opponents. In Week 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denico Autry blocks a Josh Lambo extra point, which is returned to the house by Anthony Walker, but a late low block call on the Colts cancels that play — and those points — out. The next week against the Tennessee Titans probably had the most critical blunders: in the first quarter, Chester Rogers returns a Brett Kern punt 74 yards for a would-be touchdown, but a holding call wipes that off the board; later, an illegal block above the waist penalty nullifies a 15-yard Rogers punt return; and in the third quarter, a 24-yard kickoff return is brought back due to a holding penalty. Then, Dec. 9 against the Houston Texans, Rogers had an 11-yard punt return called back due to an illegal block above the waist penalty. The Colts, according to Pro Football Focus, had the ninth-most special teams penalties in the league in 2018, something they'll look to shore up in 2019.