INDIANAPOLIS – A lack of trust in their placekicker forced the Indianapolis Colts’ hand.
One game and one consequential missed field goal – OK, the errant 42-yard attempt in Sunday’s overtime tie at Houston coupled with two errant kickoffs – were enough to convince them to re-load.
Gone is Rodrigo Blankenship.
“Sometimes in this business you just need to make a change of what you think is best for our team,’’ Frank Reich said Wednesday. “It was a touch decision, but one we thought we had to make.’’
In are Chase McLaughlin and Lucas Havrisik.
May the best man win. McLaughlin and Havrisik were signed to the practice squad and one will be elevated to the active roster for Sunday’s game at Jacksonville.
Between now and then comes the necessary but difficult task: quickly gaining the trust of Reich and new teammates.
“You’ve got to trust your teammates in this league and we’ll see how it shakes out this week,’’ quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I’m sure either of those two guys will be ready to go for us and we’ll trust them on Sunday to put it through the pipes and help us win the game.
“It’s hard in this league and you’ve got to trust that guys are going to do their jobs just like they trust I’m going to do mine. You’ve got to have faith in all three phases and historically as a special teams unit we’ve been very good around here for a long time.
“I’ll trust whoever’s out there on Sunday.’’
The level of Reich’s trust in his kicker is beyond critical. When the offense crosses midfield and gets in range for a 45- or 50-yard attempt, does he trot out his new kicker or leave Ryan and the offense on the field to convert a fourth-and-5?
Throughout a game, Reich considers analytics that are compiled by John Park and George Li. And that includes how much trust to put in his kicker in various situations. The chart grades kickers on a sliding scale.
Naturally, the more history Reich has with his kicker, the more trust the kicker’s earned.
“John will tell me, ‘Hey, here’s where we have our kicker graded right now,’’’ Reich said. “ . . . but now ‘Hey, we got a new guy. So, here’s where we have him graded.’
“I know what that means so I can factor that into the moment.’’
Occasionally, Reich will ignore the analytics chart and go with his gut.
“If he’s already made three kicks in the game and I know that the charts are kind of moderate for him or medium because he’s new, I’m like ‘Oh no, he’s got confidence right now,’’’ he said. “So I might have a little more boom.
“On the other end, if he’s missed one or two, then you can factor those things on the go.’’
The Colts have a portfolio on McLaughlin. He replaced an injury Vinatieri for the final four games of ’19 and converted 5-of-6 field goal attempts, with a long of 50, and all 11 PATs. He then lost a training camp battle with Blankenship, an undrafted rookie out of Georgia at the time, the following summer.
McLaughlin has been with six teams in three seasons and it’s been a strange career. He’s 8-of-9 on attempts of 50 yards or longer and 19-of-19 on 39 yards or shorter, but 10-of-21 between 40 and 49. He’s missed only two of 69 PATs.
Havrisik is a rookie out of Arizona who participated in the Colts rookie minicamp on a tryout basis.
Both are accomplished on kickoffs. McLaughlin has generated touchbacks on 42.2% of his 90 attempts while Havrisik pounded touchbacks nearly 74% of the time at Arizona.
During the portion of Wednesday’s practice open to the media, Havrisik was inconsistent on field goal attempts while working with longsnapper Luke Rhodes and holder Matt Haack, but perfect on four or five attempts in a full-team setting.
As it turned out, the Colts didn’t have to pay for airfare to bring in McLaughlin for Tuesday’s workout. Since not being re-signed by the Cleveland Browns after last season, he’s routinely worked out at Grand Park Sports Campus.
“I still live here in town,’’ he said. “Me and my wife loved the area so we ended up buying a place here. Been here ever since 2019.
“It’s nice being familiar with the place, coming back and seeing some familiar faces. It’s a great operation here. Great team, great coaches. It’s great to be back with them.’’
McLaughlin noted his craft is “a very repetitive position. Same motion, same action over and over again. It’s just something you perfect with thousands and thousands of reps.
“At the end of the day, it’s the same kick, just different locations.’’
As for having to regain the trust of the team, McLaughlin shrugged.
“Them bringing me back here is a great testament to that,’’ he said. “Just put a lot of faith in God and take care of what you can control.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.