INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone this week sat down for a 1-on-1 interview with Colts.com. What did he have to say about Rodrigo Blankenship winning the team's kicking competition, how the players were able to compete for special teams jobs with no preseason games, Ashton Dulin and Jordan Glasgow's special teams prowess and more?
You can catch that entire conversation above, but here are some top takeaways:
» Ventrone said the "toughest" special teams decision came down to the kicking battle, as Rodrigo Blankenship edged out Chase McLaughlin: McLaughlin, the incumbent who replaced an injured Adam Vinatieri for the final four games last season, and the undrafted rookie Blankenship battled it out throughout training camp, and appeared to be neck and neck throughout the process. In the end, Colts general manager Chris Ballard said Blankenship's especially strong start and end to camp won him the job heading into Week 1. Ventrone echoed those sentiments this week.
"I would say the hardest decision to make was the kickers," Ventrone said. "I thought that both of those guys did a good job throughout the training camp. In the end, we felt Rod was the best guy for the job, and we're just really confident in his ability to perform."
Blankenship comes to the Colts with every accolade imaginable at the college level, including the Lou Groza Award and First-Team All-American honors. He also made some big-time kicks in big-time games, and now the pressure's on for the rookie to do the same at the NFL level.
"I think just the consistency overall — being able to be the same player every day, and if you have a miss, be able to move on from that miss and don't let them compound," Ventrone said of the challenges that lie ahead for Blankenship. "I feel like being in the NFL, you're going to see probably a faster operation time, being able to get the kick off; bigger pressure situations — every game's going to be close, every close is meaningful to a degree. So every kick is important, and just being able to be the same guy every day. I think that's the biggest thing: just being as consistent as possible from that position."
» The Colts kept things as competitive as they could for players to win spots on special teams despite having no preseason games: The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of both the on-field portions of every team's respective offseason workout programs and the NFL's entire slate of preseason games. Just like offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, Ventrone had to figure out a way to hit the ground running once the players reported for training camp.
The lack of the preseason reps is perhaps the biggest factor for those fringe guys trying to make the Week 1 roster; so the Colts' staff made their camp practices as intense and game-like as they could — particularly their two scrimmages at Lucas Oil Stadium — to try to get the best evaluation possible.
"I feel like we maximized our opportunities, both in the meeting room and then we took it to the field — and even in the walkthroughs — and I felt like we tried to make each drill as competitive as we could and as physical as we could to simulate playing in game-like situations, whether it be a one-on-one drill or a punt hold up half-line drill that we did a number of times throughout training camp," Ventrone said.
"We wanted to get these guys as many true game-like experiences, especially for the younger players, because the kicking game in of itself in the NFL is completely different than anything they have done in their lives relative to the game of football in general," Ventrone continued. "So us being able to do that, I think is going to help us moving into Week 1 and obviously throughout the remainder of the season."
» Ventrone is looking forward to seeing the progression of two special teams standouts in Ashton Dulin and Jordan Glasgow: Colts fans might not know much about Dulin and Glasgow now, but they are expected to be major factors on several special teams units in 2020.
Dulin made the team last year as an undrafted rookie out of Malone University, where he excelled at wide receiver, but Ventrone realized early on he'd be one heck of a gunner on kick coverage units, as well.
Dulin last year ended up tying fellow rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke for the team lead with seven special teams tackles. This past weekend, Dulin once again made the Colts' 53-man roster at wide receiver heading into Sunday's season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"I worked Ashton out two years ago when he was coming out of Malone (University); he worked out at Toledo's pro day, and I saw first-hand that this kid was big, strong, fast, athletic, he can run, he plays with good strength at the point of attack to be able to take on blocks," Ventrone said. "He does a good job for us — he was one of our most productive players overall in coverage because of his ability to play at that gunner position where you're really defeating two blockers or defenders, however you want to call it, at one time. So he showed up a number of times for us downing balls inside the five, making plays."
Glasgow, meanwhile, was a special teams standout at Michigan, and when the Colts went on the clock this year with their final pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, in the sixth round at 213th overall, Ballard recalled thinking: "'You know what? Our special teams coaches loved him, I loved him,' and I said, 'We're taking him.'"
While his official position is linebacker, Glasgow could be a factor on pretty much every Colts special teams unit heading into the season.
Ventrone said the rookie has already proven he's willing and able to handle the extra workload.
"I think first off the kid is super smart, so he can handle what we refer to as 'multiples.' He can handle a lot of things that are going on. He understands concepts and you can throw a lot of things at him and he can handle it. So you can put more on his plate than you can some other players," Ventrone said.
"I'd say the one thing about Jordan that stands out — and I saw it on his college tape, and you get to really see it once you start coaching the guy — is he's very instinctive," Ventrone continued. "He's always around the football. … He's always putting a hat on the football. He finds his way to the ball. He has a natural feel for being able to leverage in space and leverage his blocks. Very smart player. So we're very excited to have him. And on top of that, he's an extremely hard worker. He's always coming into my office for extra work, he's staying after practice for extra work. So I love that about him."