WESTFIELD – Situational work Tuesday afternoon offered more opportunities for a pair of placekickers hoping to secure a roster spot.
Advantage: Rodrigo Blankenship.
The Indianapolis Colts’ incumbent kicker seemed to stretch his lead in his training camp competition with Jake Verity.
Near the end of practice, Frank Reich had the offense working on end-of-game scenarios with his team needing a field goal. Matt Ryan would deliver a quick pass to Michael Pittman Jr. or Ashton Dulin, who would immediately get the ball to center Ryan Kelly to initiate the next play. That might be a spike to stop the clock.
Then, the field-goal unit would hurry onto the field. Blankenship would handle the kicking, then Verity.
Blankenship won the four-kick mini-duel that included three 50-plus-yard attempts. He pulled a 53-yarder wide left, but then converted from 55, 56 and 39.
Verity nailed the 56-yarder, but was wide left from 53 and 39, and wide right from 55.
Along with still evaluating the kickers, Reich mentioned the reason for the longer attempts was not having those in the first two preseason games. Against Buffalo and Detroit, the Colts have attempted just three field goals from 24, 26 and 40 yards.
“I think the guys are both kicking well,’’ Reich said. “It’ll play itself out. They’ve both had good camps.’’
During camp, Blankenship is 21-of-24 (87.5%), including 6-of-8 on attempts of at least 50 yards. Verity is 18-of-24 (75%). Despite having the reputation of possessing a strong leg, he’s 3-of-8 on 50-plus yarders.
In the two preseason games, Blankenship converted a 24-yard attempt and a PAT at Buffalo, while Verity hit 26- and 40-yard field goals and two PATs against Detroit, but was wide right with a PAT at Buffalo.
The final roster cut to 53 players is Tuesday.
Regular-season PUP for Leonard still possible
Reich remained non-committal regarding Shaquille Leonard’s return following June back surgery. The team hopes its All-Pro linebacker is on the active roster next week, but it’s possible he remains on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) when rosters are reduced to 53 next Tuesday.
The latter scenario would mean Leonard misses at least the first four games of the regular season.
Reich said he and general manager Chris Ballard “have not had that exact conversation just yet.’’
“Based on the fact he’s really not out here yet, I guess you’d have to say that’s a possibility,’’ he said. “I’m not assuming that’s the case. In fact, really from our standpoint, we really want him back out there when he’s cleared.
“But even if he’s not ready to play, get him out there. And you can’t get out there if you’re on PUP. You can’t participate in anything.’’
Leonard has been working with the training staff, then serving as a pseudo-coach during practice. Again, rules prohibit a player on PUP from participating in practices.
So until Leonard gains medical clearance and is removed from PUP, he’s unable to get himself game-ready with practice reps. The last time he practiced was Jan. 7, two days before the Colts’ closing 26-11 loss at Jacksonville last season.
Even when Leonard is back on the field, he’ll need time to get himself ready to actually play.
“Even if he’s not ready to play, we’ve got to get him off PUP and get him ready to take live reps even if it takes however many weeks it takes to get him ready to play,’’ Reich said.
Brief o-line shuffle
Until Tuesday, the same five linemen had taken every rep with the starting offense: left tackle Matt Pryor, left guard Quenton Nelson, center Ryan Kelly, right guard Danny Pinter and right tackle Braden Smith.
But during one team session, rookie Bernard Raimann was at left tackle, Smith at right guard and Pryor at right tackle. Pinter is Kelly’s backup and took reps at center with the No. 2 offense.
Apparently, position coach Kevin Strausser was simply mixing-and-matching his players.
“That was just Strauss rotating guys around and cross-training,’’ Reich said.
Starters playing for a reason
Reich hasn’t changed his plans for Saturday’s preseason wrap-up Saturday night against Tampa Bay at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Most of his starters – minus running back Jonathan Taylor, of course – could play nearly a half. His reasoning is sound. There’s a two-week break until the Sept. 11 opener at Houston.
And remember, most starters didn’t play last Saturday against Detroit.
“You just don’t want to go that three weeks without playing,’’ Reich said. “It is important that we take another step. We’ll get ‘em in there and get the work that they need.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.