INDIANAPOLIS – Pat McAfee has a basic approach as he prepares for the 2012 season – either he is getting better, or he is not.
For McAfee, it is all about gaining ground.
"Just like any other position, you have to work to get better in the off-season," said McAfee. "If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. I have to continue to get better in things I didn't do so well (in 2011)."
There were many things at which McAfee excelled last year. He punted 88 times for a 46.6 average, breaking the club's seasonal record that had stood since 1985. McAfee had 21 punts inside the 20, compared to three touchbacks. He held a 46.8 average on six efforts in the opener at Houston and followed that with a 52.0 average on four punts against Cleveland. He posted a 55.4 average on five punts against Kansas City and twice else (at Cincinnati, 4-52.0; versus Atlanta, 9-50.1) topped a 50.0 average. His 451 punting yards against the Falcons set a club single-game record.
Accomplishments were nice, but McAfee insists improvements on certain aspects of his game can come.
"Last year people made a joke about (a comment made) about my directional punting, but it's true" said McAfee. "It's something I have to work on, my plus-area kicks. I can improve in every part of my craft. That's what I'm going to do this off-season. I will come back ready for next season with a much better mentality."
The coming months will provide McAfee with a more traditional approach to work than last year did. A year ago because of a labor matter, players were not around playing facilities and normal spring work was not part of the equation. McAfee, however, went about things differently. He left Indianapolis and got back to some basics. He thought it was necessary after what he felt was a sub-par second season.
"I really hated my second year. I disappointed myself," said McAfee. "I took advantage of the lockout. I got a chance to work with a guy that I've worked with for a long time. I got back to fundamentals and got better. I'm going to continue to do that this off-season so hopefully the improvement will continue to happen."
His numbers in 2010 (65 punts, 42.0 average, 35.4 net, 21 punts inside the 20, seven touchbacks) were cause for personal concern after his 2009 rookie totals (64 punts, 44.3 average, 37.8 net, 21 punts inside the 20, six touchbacks). McAfee toiled diligently during the off-season, and the results showed last year.
McAfee now joins his teammates in having the chance to play under a new power structure this season in Indianapolis. Ryan Grigson is the new general manager, Chuck Pagano is the new head coach and McAfee will have specific tutelage from new special teams coaches Marwan Maalouf and Brant Boyer. McAfee met Grigson and Pagano recently and is pleased with his new opportunity.
"I was super excited (to meet them). They're great guys," said McAfee. "They joked around with me a little bit. They talked about how things are going to be, and I'm just excited to get to work for them. They seem like guys you really want to show up for. I can't wait to get back to work. There are a lot of positive things to look forward to.
"I like the energy. I like the way we're making things happen. I think Mr. (Jim) Irsay had a vision. We just have to follow through with it."
Since the end of the season, McAfee had a small procedure done on his leg. He is progressing nicely.
"I am in the middle of rehabilitation doing it twice a day to get my boomstick (leg) better after some minor surgery that I had," said McAfee. "Then I will get back to work because I have to do better next year. I'm excited to kick the ball next year, handle business and get better. My career is still young, and I need to work on my craft. I want to be considered one of the best of all-time."
McAfee is amazed at how quickly three years have gone by for him. He has no trouble remembering one of his first days in the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, and he is at ease in the city he has grown to love since he arrived.
"I remember as a kid walking into the gym and seeing Robert Mathis jump rope and being more scared than I've ever been in my whole life," said McAfee. "Now, I don't want to say I'm an older guy on the team. I'm settled in. I'm comfortable in the city I'm living in. I love the team. I feel like a veteran, but I'm not there yet. It's cool. Time has flown, and I'm excited for the future."
The way McAfee attacks punting a football is the way he embraces life off the field. One of the more engaging personalities in the club's 28 years here, he enjoys give and take with the public.
"I'm a fan of them just as much as they are fans of me. I enjoy Twitter. I enjoy interacting with people. I'm just a normal dude, and I think they see that," said McAfee. "I have a really cool job, and I get a chance to hang out with a lot of cool people. Talking to people on the streets is a great time for me. I enjoy it. I like being a part of it. I'm going to try to ride this train as long as I can."
It is not time to rest. McAfee will not have it that way.
"(Fans) will see a better version of me (in 2012). Like I said, you're either getting better or getting worse. If I don't get better, I'll get fired. That's all I want to do. I want to continue to get better. I want to be considered one of the best when it's all said and done."