Colts Punter Pat McAfee: "I Have No Idea My Limit"
INDIANAPOLIS – Pat McAfee can't wait for what's next.
The Colts' punter was a crucial member of a rookie class that made a big contribution this past season, helping the team to a second Super Bowl in the last four seasons. With his rookie season a memory, McAfee said the reality is he needs to keep working.
And he said that's a good thing, a very good thing.
"I've only punted for a few years," McAfee, a seventh-round selection by the Colts in the 2009 NFL Draft, said recently. "I think I'm going to be able to keep getting better and better as my whole career goes on. Obviously I want to get better this off-season, but I don't want to stop ever getting better.
"Once you hit your peak, you're done in this league, and I don't ever want to do that."
McAfee, who played collegiately at West Virginia University, moved into the full-time punting role shortly after joining the Colts, immediately giving the team a big-legged punter capable of changing field position in crucial situations.
But he also played another role, a role he didn't necessarily expect this time a year ago, but one perhaps equally as valuable.
When Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri underwent surgery early in the season and missed much of the rest of the regular season, McAfee took over kickoff duties, and he had an immediate impact.
"He's real concerned about getting better," Vinatieri told the Indianapolis Star late in the season. "He's the type of guy who could play in this league for a long time and do really well."
In the past three seasons, Vinatieri had a total of 27 kickoffs for touchbacks.
This season, McAfee had 21 such kicks.
"I'm going to keep working on both," McAfee said. "Obviously, it's whatever they want me to do. I'm willing to do whatever they want me to do. I wouldn't mind doing it – as with punting, I want to continue to get better on kickoffs, too."
In the role for which he was drafted, McAfee – who began his collegiate career as a kicker before assuming punting duties midway through his sophomore season – may not have been flawless, but he was consistent throughout much of his rookie season.
McAfee, who played every game as a rookie, averaged 44.3 yards per punt, with 21 punts inside the 20. He said the performance wasn't what he expected, but only because he really didn't expect much at all.
"I didn't really have any expectations," he said. "I didn't know what to expect. Coming into the season, you don't know what to expect as a rookie. I'd never been through it. I didn't really make a lot of big expectations on myself. I wanted to get better and help the Colts out as much as possible.
"Obviously, I think I could have done some things differently, but I'm pretty happy with the way the year turned out."
McAfee, named an All-Rookie selection by Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers Association and The Sing News, said when he talks about improvement, he doesn't just mean on the field on game days. He said one of the benefits of being selected by the Colts first was the opportunity to work with Vinatieri, a 14-year veteran who some consider the NFL's best all-time clutch kicker.
When Vinatieri underwent surgery, the Colts signed Matt Stover, a 20-year veteran who previously played in Super Bowls with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants. The way the two players approached the game on and off the field is something from which McAfee said he can learn, and something he wants to emulate.
"I got to be around guys who have established themselves in Matt Stover and Adam Vinatieri," McAfee said. "If you look at the way they handle their bodies, the way they rest and everything – because it's a long season – that's what I've valued most, how to take care of your body so you make it through the season and perform your best later in the season instead of dying off."
McAfee, who will turn 23 in May, punted 126 times in college, and including 64 punts in the 2009 regular season and 12 in the postseason, that's 202 live punts in his career. Even many of his college punts weren't really punts in the NFL style, he said, because West Virginia used a lot of quick, "rugby" style punts.
"I was a role punter," he said.
As his number of live punts steadily grows, McAfee said he figures he will gain experience, and as he does, he said he can't help but improve. And he said that can't help but be a good thing, a very good thing.
"I don't know what my ultimate potential is for punting," he said, "but I know I'm nowhere near it right now, which is a good thing, but I'm willing to work to reach it. I'm really excited.
"I have no idea my limit for how good I can get, but I'm willing to work to see how far I can go."