Preseason Opener Critical For Special Teams Units

Intro: Many spots on the Indianapolis Colts’ final 2016 roster are going to come down to one question: how well can the player contribute on special teams? Coordinator Tom McMahon is ready to see those spots earned, starting Saturday.

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ANDERSON, Ind. — Fast. Physical. Execution.

That's what Indianapolis Colts Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon wants to see out of his units in their preseason opener Saturday against the Buffalo Bills.

McMahon acknowledges it may sound "cliché-ish," but those three terms truly encompass the goal for his players over the next few weeks into the start of the regular season.

"We've got to play fast, we've got to play physical and we've got to execute our assignments," McMahon said this week. "We've made it simple — we want them to just play within our scheme, see what they got fundamentally, and we have a big, big challenge."

McMahon led one of the NFL's top overall special teams units in the league last season, as kicker Adam Vinatieri, punter/kickoff specialist Pat McAfee, long snapper Matt Overton and returner Quan Bray proved to be among the best — if not the best — at their positions in the league.

While all four of those players return for the Colts in 2016, it's most of the other spots on special teams — on the punt protection/coverage and kickoff/kickoff return teams — that McMahon is hoping to fill, and the preseason games play a huge role in that process.

That starts Saturday on the road at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"We'll get three deep into this game," McMahon said. "It might not be on every single unit, but we're going to take a look at everybody."

And McMahon means what he says — just about everybody, no matter if they're a multi-year veteran or rookie, will be competing for jobs on special teams.

"Right now, I'm not judging older, younger, guys that are rookies — it's the best players that are they guys that we've got to find," he said. "And that's what we owe this football team and this organization."

Head Coach Chuck Pagano said the Colts this offseason lost a few key contributors to their special teams units, but have "some exciting young players that we feel are making great progress" in that regard.

"The special teams aspect is going to be key because a lot of these guy's livelihood and longevity in whether they make this roster or not depends on whether they're great core teamers or not," Pagano said.

McMahon said Saturday's game against the Bills will present a quality challenge for his units, particularly when returning kickoffs. Buffalo kicker Jordan Gay is known league-wide for his high kickoffs, which is a style being copied more and more across the league now that touchbacks, at least for the 2016 season, have been moved five yards up to the 25-yard line.

The NFL owners approved the touchback rule as a one-year experiment in March at the NFL Owner's Meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.

"He can kick the ball very, very high," McMahon said of Gay. "So he's the guy everybody's kind of copying right now that's trying to put the ball way up, you know, in order to make teams return it. So this will be a big test for us, not only with returns, but with making good decisions in the end zone — whether to take a touchback on a high hang or not."

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