Colts' Elite Punt Unit Makes Another Huge Play In Win Over Jaguars

Indianapolis Colts special teams captain Zaire Franklin got both hands on a first-quarter Jacksonville Jaguars punt attempt on Sunday, which was picked up and returned for a touchdown by E.J. Speed in Indy’s 23-17 Week 10 win. Since 2018, the year the Colts hired Bubba Ventrone as special teams coordinator, no team in the NFL has more punt team scores than Indy’s six.

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It's not unusual for Bubba Ventrone to hype up his players, but the Indianapolis Colts' special teams coordinator was feeling especially confident as he began preparations for Indy's Week 10 matchup Jacksonville Jaguars.

On Monday, in fact, he sent a text message to Zaire Franklin, playing the role of prognosticator for his two-time special teams captain.

"Bubba texted me on Monday saying, 'Hey Z, you're going to get a block this week. I'm calling it right now," Franklin recalled.

"I had to prove him right."

It didn't take long at all for Franklin to do just that on Sunday.

Midway through the first quarter, Franklin shed an initial block on a Jacksonville punt play, came screaming from the interior of the protection and got both hands on Logan Cooke's kick, sending the ball to the turf. After a mad scramble, it was E.J. Speed who picked up the football at the 12-yard line and, as head coach Frank Reich would describe him, ran it into the end zone like a "man possessed."

The huge special teams play would end up being a crucial part of the Colts' 23-17 home victory, pulling Indy to .500 on the season at 5-5.

"Just blessed. That's all I can say," Franklin said when asked after earning a game ball from Reich following Sunday's game. "All the work you put in, all the time you put in at practice — we practiced it this this week.

"I'm happy I had (Ventrone's) back (and) got the block," Franklin continued. "We know how guys are, our special teams. Myself, E.J., Matt (Adams), George (Odum), Ashton (Dulin), all the guys. Jordan (Glasgow). We take serious pride in that, into our craft and our preparation. We had a lot of rushes up this week on punt return, but we just knew one of us was going to get home. I was just happy."

The play for the Colts was just the continuation of a clear theme for Ventrone's elite punt block/return unit since being hired as Indy's special teams coordinator in 2018.

Over the last four seasons, including the postseason, the Colts have scored points on an NFL-best six opposing punt plays: three touchdowns via blocked punts, two punt return touchdowns, and a safety.

Franklin said it's no mistake the Colts have seen such successful results for that unit particularly.

"Since I've been here, since my first year in '18, Frank (Reich) and Chris (Ballard) — and Mr. (Jim) Irsay specifically – have always took a huge importance on special teams and just being an impact in all three phases," Franklin said. "We take pride in our core guys and I'm just happy that we can kind of help get to the victory today."

For his part, Reich gives Ventrone prime practice time each day to work on every special teams unit, and was ecstatic to see his coach's prediction come to fruition on Sunday.

In fact, the Colts' special teams were an all-around difference maker against the Jaguars, as the team scored a touchdown on the aforementioned punt block play, while kicker Mike Badgley would knock in all three field goal attempts and his lone extra-point try for 10 points total.

"Bubba, he had a feeling we were going to block a punt," Reich said. "We were doing punt block drills in the middle of the season — like serious punt block drills in the middle of the season — and him saying somebody's going to get it. There were a couple opportunities that we weren't sure who was going to break free. We knew that Zaire might have the best chance, but Bubba was really confident that we were going to get a block this week. Then, of course, Zaire executed perfectly.

"(And) how about E.J. on the recovery?" Reich continued. "He looked like a man possessed, like, 'I'm going to score on this fumble recovery.' So, nice job by E.J."

The touchdown by Speed is the second time he's played a major role in scoring points on special teams. Last season, Speed was able to block a Tennessee Titans punt attempt, leading to a scoop-and-score by T.J. Carrie in Indy's 34-17 Week 10 victory in Nashville.

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