Back in March, Brian Mason laid out his vision for the kind of play he aims to coach out of his special teams units, from kickoff/punt return and coverage to punt block/field goal block.
"I've always tried to be aggressive, tough and disciplined in everything we do," Mason said. "Certainly, we want to be aggressive but smart. We're not going to be reckless, but we want to be able to find different advantages we can to have some fun in the game and create explosive plays that can impact field position. Those are really the two top things we're looking to impact every single game. No. 1 is field position, No. 2 is to generate explosive plays and limit the explosive plays of our opponent."
Mason – a Zionsville native – joined the Colts this year after a wildly successful season as Notre Dame's special teams coordinator. The Irish blocked at least one punt in five consecutive games and seven in 2022; Notre Dame's average starting field position was the 33.4-yard line, best in the nation.
More than anything, though, Mason's year in South Bend was defined by how hard the Irish played for him – and it showed in the on-field results.
With the Colts, Mason in training camp will be tasked with figuring out which players – from starters to down-the-roster guys fighting for jobs – fit his special teams ethos the best.
This is where some of the fiercest roster battles will take place. A player's willingness and ability to contribute on special teams frequently is the difference between making and missing the cut. Several key contributors on offense and defense – like wide receiver Ashton Dulin and linebackers Zaire Franklin and EJ Speed – started as core special teamers and grew their responsibilities from there.
The Colts do return a handful of core special teams players from 2022's group, which was eighth in Rick Gosselin's annual special teams rankings:
- EJ Speed (382 snaps)
- Tony Brown (302 snaps)
- JoJo Domann (264 snaps)
- Grant Stuard (264 snaps)
- Nick Cross (215 snaps)
- Ashton Dulin (187 snaps)
The only top-seven special teams snap-getter from the 2022 team to not currently be on the roster is Ben Banogu (231 snaps, No. 5), who signed with the Dallas Cowboys earlier this year. The Colts brought back Speed, Brown and Dulin in free agency, while Domann, Stuard and Cross enter their second seasons in the NFL.
We'll see if those players who were core guys under former coordinator Bubba Ventrone can earn the same snaps under Mason, and if there are other players on the roster – possibly drawing from a deep crop of undrafted free agents – who earn key roles in 2023.
So don't sleep on the special teams periods during practice in Westfield. Pay attention, and you just might get some hints on who could be on the Colts' roster to begin the season.