Roster Review: Blankenship faces another kicking competition

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Jul. 18—INDIANAPOLIS — For the third straight season, Rodrigo Blankenship will have to earn his spot on the Indianapolis Colts roster during the preseason.

The former Georgia star kicker injured his hip before a Week 5 loss against the Baltimore Ravens in 2021 and was unable to regain his starting job from replacement Michael Badgley.

Badgley wasn't re-signed during the offseason, but Blankenship will have a new rival in Jake Verity.

It's a familiar scenario for the 25-year-old who beat out Chase McLaughlin to earn the job as a rookie and outlasted Eddie Pineiro last summer.

"My mindset is I have to earn the right to be here," Blankenship said in June. "It doesn't matter what happened the year before, the game before. It doesn't matter. I have to earn the right to be here."

That competition will begin with the first practice July 27 at Westfield's Grand Park, and it should be the most closely watched aspect of the Colts' special teams this summer.

Here's a look at how Indianapolis' specialists stack up with training camp quickly approaching:

THE STARTERS

The biggest knock against Blankenship has been an inability to consistently convert from long distance. He's just 1-of-4 on field-goal attempts beyond 50 yards while going 42-of-47 from all other distances.

Blankenship understands the genesis of the critique — specifically mentioning misses against the Green Bay Packers from 50 yards and the Jacksonville Jaguars from 56 — but he doesn't find merit in the argument.

Blankenship points to his stellar college career, including a 55-yard field goal to set a Rose Bowl record, as evidence his leg has plenty of strength.

"I personally don't feel like it's a valid criticism," he said. "But I understand that, to this point, I haven't proven I'm capable of doing that (in the NFL)."

Neither has Verity, but he does have an interesting pedigree.

The 24-year-old remained on the Ravens' practice squad until December last season, despite the presence of the league's best kicker — Justin Tucker — on the active roster.

An undrafted rookie out of East Carolina, Verity was 4-for-5 during the preseason for Baltimore. He connected on a 53-yarder in his only attempt of 50 yards or more.

Blankenship enters the competition with an obvious edge in experience, and head coach Frank Reich said Verity will have to score a knockout to unseat the reigning champ.

Blankenship has connected on 84.3% of his career field-goal tries with a career-long of 53 yards. He's 50-of-53 on extra points.

"Rod was our kicker last year," Reich said. "So, in my mind, it's Rod's (job) to (lose), but it's an open competition. I would say Rod would be on the depth chart as the No. 1 kicker right now, but is it a competition? Yes."

The slots elsewhere among the specialists are more defined.

Long snapper Luke Rhodes earned his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections last year and has missed just one game since 2017.

Punter Rigoberto Sanchez remains one of the league's best coffin-corner artists and again will be unchallenged in training camp.

Even with his role expected to expand on offense, Nyheim Hines figures to remain the primary punt returner. And cornerback Isaiah Rodgers, who likewise could see an increase in his defensive duties, is the front-runner as the kick-off return man.