INDIANAPOLIS – Rodrigo Blankenship barely has begun to make his mark with the Indianapolis Colts and in the NFL, but has made a quick impression with his special teams coach.
“He’s definitely unique,’’ Bubba Ventrone said Tuesday on a Zoom conference call.
Wait, there’s more.
“I would say he is probably the most unique guy I’ve coached to this point; I’ve only been coaching for six years,’’ he added.
Ventrone’s NFL resume also includes eight seasons and 97 games as a player with the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, so he’s been exposed to hundreds of players and personalities.
Again, Blankenship – two games into what the Colts hope is a long, productive career – already stands out.
“He’s probably the most unique player that I’ve been around,’’ Ventrone reiterated. “At times kickers, specialists, can be a little bit more quirkier to a degree. I don’t know the reason. But I don’t think all our guys are like that. They’re all unique in their own ways.’’
As if Ventrone hasn’t made it clear, his undrafted rookie kicker has taken quirky to a different level.
After waging a training camp kicking duel with incumbent Chase McLaughlin, Blankenship revealed he chilled the night before Cut Day by talking to his girlfriend, Logan, and building a LEGO set. He’s had this thing with LEGO sets since 2007, as well as Star Wars, Transformers and Marvel comics.
“A big kid at heart,’’ he said. “I’m a huge super hero geek . . . all that kind of sci-fi, nerdy, geeky kind of stuff.’’
Ventrone paused, then dove headlong into the nerdy side of his kicker. He earlier had mentioned how Blankenship “is into sneakers like I am’’ and “likes rap music.’’
“I don’t want to say too much here,’’ he began, “but there’s not a lot of NFL players that are building LEGOs, you know, and playing video games like that. He is. And he admittedly is into that type of thing.
“Whatever toots your horn, man. I support whatever he wants to do. As long as he’s making kicks, I don’t care what he does.’’
So far, the 23-year-old with the Rec Specs hasn’t disappointed, save that 30-yarder he doinked off the left upright in the season-opening loss at Jacksonville. He’s been pure on 38-, 25-, 28-, 38-, 38- and 44-yard field goals and all four of his PATs.
“I thought he bounced back pretty well,’’ Ventrone said of Blankenship’s lone miss. “It was a 30-yarder. Obviously, we’ve got to make all our kicks.
“But this kid’s played in a lot of big games . . . hit big kicks in big games. We can’t ignore that. To me, he’s shown he can bounce back.’’
Blankenship’s pedigree and demeanor caught the eye of Chris Ballard and the scouting staff from the outset. He’s Georgia’s all-time scoring leader with 440 points and won the Lou Groza Award as a senior as the nation’s top kicker. He was a semifinalist as a junior.
However, there’s no denying he would be stepping into a glaring spotlight. He would be succeeding Adam Vinatieri, who finished last season on IR with a knee injury and remains a free agent.
“I’m not trying to be anybody’s replacement,’’ Blankenship said earlier this month. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Adam and everything he’s done. I think it’s safe to say he’s the best to ever do it so far.
“I’m just trying to focus on being the best Rodrigo I can be, and hopefully that’ll get the job done.’’
Ventrone has worked with two of the greatest kickers in NFL history: the last two seasons with Vinatieri as the Colts’ special teams coordinator and from 2015-17 with Stephen Gostkowski as New England’s special teams assistant coach.
They’ve combined for 39 seasons, 571 regular-season games, 976 made field goals and, brace yourself, 4,461 points. Each elevated himself above the rest with an unwavering commitment and a proven routine.
That’s the blueprint for Blankenship. Remember, he’s 23 and wasn’t born when Vinatieri knocked down his first NFL field goal in 1996.
“It’s just finding that consistency and being as repeatable as you can every day, especially with your mechanics, but just your process,’’ Ventrone said. “Coach (Frank Reich) always talks about the process, the process, the process.
“A lot of the process is getting your body ready, having a routine, and that gives you the ability to go out and have repeatable mechanics and production.’’
Major bounce-back by D
What a difference a week makes.
After failing to make enough meaningful plays in the Colts’ opening loss at Jacksonville, coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense rose up and completely shut down the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
The defense allowed just 175 total yards, the team’s fewest since 2014. It harassed Kirk Cousins into the worst day of his career: 11-of-26, 113 yards, a 15.9 rating. It sacked him three times, one of which resulted in a safety, and intercepted him three times.
“The defense is always predicated on our principles of the hustle, the intensity and taking the football away and being smart situationally,’’ Eberflus said. “I thought the players did a good job of executing the game plan, paying attention to detail and executing those foundational traits.
“It’s really what you’re doing with your eyes a lot of times, how you’re setting up, how you’re breaking. When we play that style, you see good results.’’
We’re only two games into the season, but Eberflus’ group ranks No. 1 in the league in fewest yards per game (208) and per play (4.4), and passing yards (122.5) and first downs (14.5). It’s tied for 3rd with seven sacks, tied for 2nd with three interceptions and 5th against the run (85.5).
In the stat that really matters, the Colts are 8th in fewest points per game (19.0).
After throttling the Vikings, Frank Reich insisted “I don’t know if you can play much better than we played defensively. That was an explosive offense. We were good for 60 minutes.’’
The next step is to take another authoritative step Sunday when the New York Jets visit Lucas Oil Stadium. An impotent offense has contributed to the Jets’ 0-2 start. They rank 32nd in total yards (265.5), 31st in rushing (78.0), 30th in passing (187.5) and 31st in scoring (15.0).
One of the most striking offensive changes from week 1 to week 2 was the “touch’’ total for Nyheim Hines. After 15 total touches at Jacksonville – eight catches, seven rushes – he had just one catch for 4 yards against the Vikings.
“We need to get the ball to Nyheim,’’ coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “He’s too good of a playmaker. That’s an emphasis each week.’’
Limiting Hines’ opportunities last Sunday was a game plan that had rookie Jonathan Taylor and Jordan Wilkins sharing the rushing load. They combined for 35 of the team’s 40 attempts.
“Definitely it’s always in our plans to get Nyheim the ball and be a big part of this offense,’’ Sirianni said. “It just didn’t work that way last week.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.