INDIANAPOLIS – It’s a part of the game that unquestionably cost the Colts multiple games last season.
Hence, time for a head-to-head battle to decide who will be the Colts kicker in 2020.
The returnee in Chase McLaughlin versus the decorated rookie in Rodrigo Blankenship.
Chris Ballard will be watching closely.
“Of course, the kicking battle,” Ballard said of a position battle on his mind in 2020.
“We’re going to have to find ways to make sure that we create enough competition and pressure situations for both McLaughlin and Blankenship. Frank (Reich) and (his) staff have a plan for it, but that’s going to be an interesting one to watch.”
McLaughlin, 24, is the incumbent after re-signing with the Colts following his 4-game ‘tryout’ last season.
While the Colts were wilting last December, McLaughlin replaced an injured Adam Vinatieri and was a definite bright spot.
The 2019 rookie made all 11 of his extra points, and 5-of-6 field goals with the Colts, while playing two games outdoors. He made two field goals from 50 yards (both outside) and his lone miss was off the upright from 47 yards.
Ballard is a fan of the routine McLaughlin works through in his kicking. In playing for 3 teams last year, McLaughlin was 18-of-23 on field goals and a perfect 26-of-26 on extra points.
His actual kicking experience in NFL games will be a big advantage in battling Blankenship.
While Blankenship will not have the opportunity to kick in any preseason games in August, it’s foolish to question his ability to perform under pressure.
Blankenship—who the Colts aggressively pursued as an undrafted free agent—won the Lou Groza Award last year, which is given to college football’s top kicker.
The four-year SEC kicker has kicked in a National Championship, SEC Championship and multiple games in front of crowds far bigger than what he will ever encounter in the NFL. In college, Blankenship made 80-of-97 field goals, going 23-of-33 from 40+ yards and 6-of-9 from 50+ yards.
Evaluating Blankenship will only come in practice settings though, so one would think he will have to outperform McLaughlin somewhat convincingly in order for the Colts to go with a kicker who has never kicked before in an NFL game, despite the vast experience from college.
Yes, Blankenship was exposed to some tremendous pressure situations in college, but kicking in the NFL still brings a different amount of responsibility.
“The competition between those two guys will have some competitive kicking contests in the middle of practice, at the end of practice,” Reich says. “We’ll try to create as many high-pressured scenarios as we can for those competitions. They’ll get all of it in their normal routine, but then as a team we will create a more team atmosphere, more team kicking drills that will be heightened and weighted more heavily in the kicking competition.”
And to the winner?
Replacing the greatest kicker in NFL history.