Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri discusses offseason of change
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Adam Vinatieri has been through this before, but it’s been a while.
You know, his offseason routine being discombobulated by the expected. In February, Pat McAfee, Vinatieri’s holder/confidant since 2009, abruptly retired.
Monday, the adjustment period for the Indianapolis Colt’ veteran placekicker was further complicated. Matt Overton, Vinatieri’s long-snapper since 2012, was surprisingly released.
Instead of focusing on his craft and strengthening a well-oiled snapper/holder/kicker bond as he’s entering his 22nd season, Vinatieri finds himself staring at the unexpected.
“Everybody loves consistency. We all do,’’ he said Tuesday. “We all love coming to work knowing who we’ve got and what we’re doing. We all have our quirks and tendencies.
“When you’re together for a while, you know how to deal with each other. You know how to calm each other down and adjust to each other.’’
And now? With McAfee concentrating on his comedic career with Barstool Sports and Overton dealing with the suddenness of being an unrestricted free agent?
“We’ll see,’’ Vinatieri said. “Now it’s just going to be a bit of a learning experience. It’s myself and two new guys. It’ll be a different situation for sure.’’
When the Colts open the season Sept. 10 on the road against the Los Angeles Rams, he added, “We should be OK. We’re going to work our butts off.’’
Vinatieri has full confidence in general manager Chris Ballard finding suitable replacements and special teams coordinator Tom McMahon whipping everyone into shape.
If that’s not enough, the urgency to perform will kick in.
“It’s all our mortgages (on the line),’’ Vinatieri said with a smile, “so we’ll all make sure we’re hitting on all cylinders.’’
The Colts have entered the second phase of their offseason conditioning program, which allows on-field positional work under the direction of coaches. Vinatieri has been working with Jeff Locke as his holder. Locke signed a two-year, $3.45 million contract in March to fill McAfee’s dual role of punter and holder on placements.
“He’s a good punter, and he’s a good athlete,’’ Vinatieri said of Locke. “If you can get guys who are good athletes, they can make adjustments. He’s held in the league for four years. He’s going to be fine.’’
Vinatieri smiled as he recalled his introduction to McAfee in 2009. The Colts drafted McAfee in the seventh round to replace free-agent departure Hunter Smith, and team president Bill Polian wondered if McAfee might also assume Smith’s holding duties.
“Pat tells the story all the time that he had never held before he got here,’’ Vinatieri said. “He BS’d Polian a little bit about, ‘Oh, yeah, I know how to hold.’ Then he calls me and says, ‘I’ve never held before.’
“We worked that offseason to get him (up to speed) and thank God he was a great athlete. He’s as good as any I’ve ever had.’’
While Locke undoubtedly will hold for Vinatieri, who will get the ball to Locke?
“The long-snapper situation is still a little bit up in the air,’’ Vinatieri said.
It’s believed the team is high on Duke’s Thomas Hennessy, one of the undrafted collegians it signed after the NFL draft. The 6-2, 235-pounder handled long-snapping chores for four seasons and 52 games with the Blue Devils. As a senior at Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., Hennessy was the nation’s No. 9-ranked long-snapper according to Kohl’s scouting.
Until he’s in sync with Locke and the snapper-to-be-determined, Vinatieri might find himself considering how fortunate he’s been.
Since signing with the Colts as a free agent in 2006, he’s had two snappers (Justin Snow and Overton) and two holders (Smith and McAfee). That type of continuity also aided his 10-year career with the New England Patriots.
“I’ve been lucky. I haven’t had too many of each throughout my career,’’ he said.
Holders in New England included Tom Tupa, Lee Johnson, Ken Walter and Josh Miller. The list of long-snappers: Mike Bartrum and Lonie Paxton, even teacher-turned-holder Brian Kinchen when Paxton and his backup suffered season-ending injuries near the end of the 2003 campaign.
In Super Bowl XXXVIII, it was Kinchen, 38 and out of the NFL for three seasons, who was the emergency snapper as Vinatieri knocked down a 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds to play to give the Patriots a 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Other than that sudden change, Vinatieri generally has benefitted from continuity. That’s been especially true with his long-snappers.
“At that position,’’ he said, “if they’re good, they tend to last quite a while.’’
Case in point: the Colts. Since 1994 – a span on 23 seasons and 368 games – they’ve leaned almost exclusively on three long-snappers. Overton (80), Snow (192) and Brad Banta (92) have done the snapping in all but four games.
“That’s pretty awesome,’’ Vinatieri said.
Soon, the transition must give way to execution and productivity. For so many years, the kicking phase of the Colts’ special teams has been a given.
“We all get taken for granted until we don’t do our job,’’ Vinatieri said. “Something goes wrong – an errant snap or a missed hold or a missed kick at the wrong time – and then we get highlighted in a hurry.
“Like anything in this league, they’re always looking to replace you with someone better or cheaper or younger or whatever.’’