Adam Vinatieri on Colts’ special-teams moves: Not what everybody anticipated

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Adam Vinatieri

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Adam Vinatieri has seen almost everything during an NFL career that’s spanned 22 seasons and 352 games.

The veteran placekicker has seen close friends waived, casual acquaintances released. He’s had to adjust to this long-snapper, that holder.

Monday, Vinatieri once again found himself in adjustment mode.

With the Sept. 10 opener against the Los Angeles Rams looming, the Indianapolis Colts sent a shock wave through their special teams. Two, in fact.

Long-snapper? Thomas Hennessy, the polished undrafted rookie out of Duke, was traded to the New York Jets for safety Ronald Martin. The job now belongs to Luke Rhodes, who’s been dabbling in long-snapping while working as a backup inside linebacker.

“That may have surprised a few people, me a little bit as well,’’ Vinatieri said. “But there’s a big upside there when (Rhodes) gets consistent with his snapping. He’s going to be as good as any guy out there.’’

Punter/holder? See ya, Jeff Locke. The jobs are yours, Rigoberto Sanchez.

Locke was general manager Chris Ballard’s first veteran free-agent investment in March, signing a two-year, $3.45 million contract that included $1.25 million in guarantees. He was released Monday. Sanchez is an undrafted rookie out of Hawaii.

Vinatieri paused as he considered personnel moves that directly impact his ability to do what he does.

“Um, nothing surprises me anymore,’’ he said with a grin. “It’ll be interesting.

“What everybody anticipated at the beginning is not what it is.’’

Vinatieri has been exposed to virtually every conceivable situation during his career. He’s knocked down a pair of game-winning field goals in the Super Bowl, drilled a personal favorite 45-yarder in a driving snowstorm against the Raiders in the 2001 postseason and delivered 26 game-winners overall.

Now, his expertise hinges on Rhodes, who’s never long-snapped in a game since high school, delivering a crisp, tight spiral to Sanchez, who did zero holding at Hawaii because he did all of the kicking.

“It’s back to the drawing board,’’ Vinatieri said. “We’re just going to keep working our butts off and getting after it. At this point, it’s about getting as many reps as we can to get where we’re all on the same page.’’

Again, Vinatieri can’t do his job until his novice snapper and novice holder do theirs. Does that require him having trust?

“That we know what we’re doing? Yeah,’’ he said.

Rhodes began focusing on long-snapping when the Colts opened their offseason conditioning program in April. He showed enough promise to share the long-snapping with Hennessy in the preseason opener against Detroit, then did it all last Saturday at Pittsburgh.

“This is something I’ve been working on for a while,’’ he said. “The trust the coaches have put in me not having done it in the NFL and working hard enough to be the guy right now means a lot.’’

Having secured the long-snapping position, Rhodes no longer will figure into the linebacker equation.

“Thinking I’m just going to be a long-snapper now,’’ he said.

Sanchez, meanwhile, won his training camp competition with Locke. He lacked Locke’s depth on kickoffs, but averaged 47.2 yards on 10 punts (41.3 net) while Locke averaged 43.5 on 11 attempts (44.0 net).

“I’ve been hungry since I first got here as an undrafted free agent,’’ Sanchez said. “I’ve got to have that mentality throughout the season.’’

Chuck Pagano said settling on Rhodes and Sanchez was a matter of doing “what we felt was best for this team and gave us the best chance to win right now.’’

He was effusive with his praise for Sanchez.

“We love the leg. We love the talent. We love the youth,’’ Pagano said.

Sanchez’s biggest hurdle will be to get up to speed with holding on placements.

“He’s like Pat (McAfee),’’ Vinatieri said of his former long-time teammate. “Pat had never held and (Sanchez) has never held, ever, before this year.

“But he’s a good athlete and we’ll be throwing him a lot of balls to get him there. He’s already good. He’s going to get very good the more reps he gets.’’

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