INDIANAPOLIS — While it was (probably) just a coincidence, Pat McAfee had a note waiting for him at his locker Monday morning at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
The Indianapolis Colts punter had been randomly selected by the NFL drug testing program's Medical Advisor to complete a urine doping test, and it needed to be that day. Like, ASAP.
Now, all players are subjected to these random tests throughout the season, and punters are no exception to the rule. But McAfee joked on his Twitter account that after his performance in the Colts' preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, perhaps the "randomness" of the drug test wasn't so random after all.
McAfee's game against the Bills was even up and beyond a typical McAfee performance, and that's really saying something, considering how the West Virginia product has been one of the top punters in the league over his eight-year NFL career.
In soggy conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium, McAfee punted five times for 293 total yards for an insane 58.6 yards-per-punt average. Two of his punts fell for touchbacks, while another was downed inside the 20.
His longest punt of the day was his aforementioned 67-yard boot from that traveled from the Indianapolis 20-yard line to the Buffalo 13-yard line.
The performance was even more special considering McAfee had just tweaked his right knee (in his kicking leg, no less) the week before during a training camp practice, leading the Colts to sign punter Michael Palardy as an emergency option for the game.
Palardy ended up performing McAfee's usual kickoff duties throughout the whole game, and then took over punting duties in the second half.
But McAfee credited the Colts' training staff with getting him ready to go to even be capable of booming a few punts last Saturday against the Bills.
"Yeah, it felt really good," McAfee said this week of his knee. "The guys in the training room — Kyle (Davis), Kellen (Norris) and Erin (Barill) — took care of me quickly. They said I'd be healthy soon, and I was a little worried about it, because it's in the kicking leg, obviously. But they took care of me and I practiced two days before the game; I got the chance to kick again, I felt good. And then game day, I felt really good."
With McAfee back to full health, the team on Monday waived Palardy, claiming guard Donovan Williams off waivers in his place.Coverage impressive
By booming so many punts downfield — and being able to be a spectator during kickoffs — McAfee last Saturday had a good perspective on the many young players trying to potentially earn a spot on the final roster by showing that they can be coverage specialists, in addition to their positions on offense or defense.
Highlights from the Colts preseason win over the Bills.
The Bills had 13 total possessions, starting out on average at their 19-yard line, signifying solid coverage on both punts and kickoffs.
"We've got a bunch of good special teams guys that are trying to earn some spots right now," McAfee said. "That's what preseason is all about. It's a lot of fun to watch them go make plays."
After watching the game over again, McAfee said first-year inside linebacker Edwin Jackson "popped up on film" — he led both teams with eight total tackles on defense and added another two on special teams — and he was also impressed with a tackle made on a kickoff by rookie wide receiver Danny Anthrop, who dropped Bills returner Walter Powell at his own 17-yard line on Buffalo's final drive of the game.
McAfee said the special teams units will need new guys to step up after the team lost former standouts Colt Anderson (free agency; signed with the Bills) and Andy Studebaker (released Feb. 22).
"We've got a lot of spots open for guys to compete for on special teams, and field position is always pivotal, and it's going to be this year," McAfee said. "I think we're going to build a group here that Colts Nation can be proud of, and we're going to try to help our team win as many games as possible."New kickoff rule
McAfee says the jury is still out on whether or not the league's new rule on touchbacks — moving them to the 25-yard line — will ultimately be a good or a bad thing.
It might depend upon who you're asking. Special teams coordinators across the league last week tried to utilize more of a hanging kickoff to limit returners' time with the ball in their hands and potentially pin them inside their own 25. While it worked in some instances, it backfired in others, leading to six kickoff return touchdowns across the league.
The rule is experimental for the 2016 season, and McAfee says he needs to see more data — and try it on his own, of course — before determining whether he thinks it should stay or go.
"I think as preseason goes on, we'll kind of see how it wears and see how it plays out," McAfee said. "I think we'll see how it plays out through the preseason; the rule might backfire a little bit in the NFL — teams might hang it up a little bit — but who knows? We've got three more games to figure that out, and really that's what these preseason games are all about, is kind of figuring out what the best method is for the regular season."