INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts’ Adam Vinatieri is known as a clutch kicker, but he is also adept at kickoffs.
His eight touchbacks this season rank eighth in the league, and while that might not seem like a big deal, consider what it was like before he joined the Colts in 2006. Indianapolis had only one touchback in 2004 and 2005.
Despite having the most accurate field-goal kicker of all time, Mike Vanderjagt, the Colts kept bringing in others, such as Dave Rayner and Martin Gramatica, to try their feet at kickoffs.
Vinatieri, however, requires no assistance.
“We’re just swinging for the fences, I guess,” said Vinatieri, who had nine touchbacks last season, 12th most in the NFL. “We’re all trying to do our part. You’ve got to get the ball deep. And if the guys run down there and cover really well, like they have been doing this year, it puts less pressure on the defense because the opposing offense has a long way to go.”
Heading into Sunday’s game against Houston at Lucas Oil Stadium, 20 percent of the Colts’ kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks, 13th best in the NFL.
The average starting field position of Indianapolis opponents after kickoffs is the 26-yard line, giving the Colts the No. 14 ranking. Opposing teams’ returns have gone for an average of 22.9 yards, giving the Colts the 20th-best coverage unit in the NFL, and none have been returned for touchdowns.
Colts coach Tony Dungy said his team has been able to develop good special teams players, such as Clint Session, Matt Giordano and, especially, Darrell Reid, by keeping them in their roles longer.
“They take pride in it. Guys that have been here for a while, Darrell Reid and that group of guys, they want to do well and they have done well so far,” Dungy said. “The biggest thing for us is putting the same guys out there in the same position so they can improve.”
With all the injuries the Colts have had over the last two seasons, that hasn’t been easy. But the Colts (5-4), who have climbed back into the postseason race, hope their good kickoff containment will be an important part of their future.
“Obviously, every time you step on the field, you want to do well,” Vinatieri said. “If we can put it back there (in the end zone) so at least they have to make a decision on whether to bring it out or not, that’s a good thing.”
Notes: Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who has an ankle injury, did not practice, but Dungy said he should be available for Sunday’s game. … It’s unlikely that cornerback Kelvin Hayden (knee) will be back in the lineup.