INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Unless you reside on the upper end of an NFL team’s personnel hierarchy, there’s one surefire approach to competing for a roster spot during training camp.
The more, the better. The more versatile the player, the better his chance of sticking around when rosters are cut to 53 Sept. 2.
We give you Luke Rhodes. He’s in his second season with the Indianapolis Colts – his first spanned three months and consisted of spot duty in four games – and listed as a third-tier guy among inside linebackers.
But there’s more.
“At this point I’m working at wherever coach feels I have the best chance to help the team,’’ Rhodes said Thursday. “That’s all I’m interested in.
“Whatever that means for me, we’ll see.’’
What that means is the coaching staff is taking a long look at whether Rhodes, already a core special teams player, is a viable candidate to challenge rookie Thomas Hennessy as Matt Overton’s successor at long-snapper. It’s something he dabbled in as a two-way star at Hollidaysburg (Pa.) Area High School.
At William & Mary, Rhodes noted, “I was a reserve if they needed me.
“I always knew how to do it and it was easy for me to pick up.’’
The NFL, though, is a different universe.
“I’m still learning the protections and things like that,’’ Rhodes said. “But the snapping, I’ve always been able to do that.’’
After Overton was released in early May and before Hennessy was added as an undrafted rookie out of Duke, veteran placekicker Adam Vinatieri was looking for a snapper to work with.
The situation, he said, “is still a little bit up in the air.’’
Vinatieri wasn’t able to name the player doing the long-snapping during offseason work.
It was Luke Rhodes.
“He’s done a great job at the linebacker spot,’’ Chuck Pagano said, “but as a special teamer, he’s phenomenal. And he’s growing into a really good long-snapper and short-snapper. We’re going to take a good, hard look at him at that spot.
“Him and Thomas are giving us really good competition.’’
Hennessy has done the majority of snapping in the first two preseason games, but Rhodes handled four in the opener against Detroit. The expectation is for Rhodes to get expanded work Saturday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He isn’t a stranger to heavy workloads. At Dallas, Rhodes was on the field for 61 defensive snaps and 18 special-teams snaps. Both were team highs. He’s a core special teamer, a contributor on all four phases. While Hennessy did the snapping against the Cowboys, Rhodes was his “guard’ protector.
“Playing a multitude of different positions and all the special teams to show I can do the skills on special teams and be a durable guy that’s going to show up at practice every day and at games,’’ he said. “You’ve got to be able to play all four special teams and show up every day and be healthy.’’
How much work will Luck need?
Not even Pagano expects quarterback Andrew Luck to step off the physically unable to perform list, immediately step into the huddle and pick up where he left off.
It’s going to take some time, some work with his teammates. Luck, who remains on PUP while he mends from January surgery on his right shoulder, hasn’t practiced since the last week in December.
“Having played the amount of time and snaps that he’s played, I don’t think he would need as much as say a second- or third-string guy for obvious reasons,’’ Pagano said. “He’s still going to need some time, to get on the same page, to get comfortable with the wide receivers and the tight ends . . . to get under center and hand the ball off . . . timing, communication, continuity and then just the confidence thing, getting back out there and throwing the football around.’’
For those not paying attention, Luck is unable to practice with teammates while he’s on PUP. He’s limited to working with trainers and rehab personnel.
Pagano was asked if there will come a point when the team must come to the realization Luck will not be available for the Sept. 10 opener against the Los Angeles Rams?
“That’s inevitable,’’ he said. “When that happens, we’ll deal with it.
“He’s going through rehab. He’s sticking with the process. When those docs and trainers tell us he’s fine and he’s ready to go, then you guys will see him. We’ll all see him.’’
Defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins missed a second straight practice with a shoulder injury. Pagano said Hankins “dinged’’ his shoulder when his arm got caught between two offensive players during a pass-rush drill Tuesday. There’s a good chance Hankins won’t play against the Steelers.
Also, wideout Chester Rogers continues to miss time with a hamstring injury. Wideout Donte Moncrief wore a red non-contact jersey this week while dealing with a shoulder injury and his status for Saturday’s game is uncertain.
The availability of rookie safety Malik Hooker (shoulder) for the Pittsburgh game is up in the air.