‘Splitting hairs’: Colts opt for rookie K Rodrigo Blankenship

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INDIANAPOLIS – The much-hyped kicking competition between incumbent Chase McLaughlin and rookie Rodrigo Blankenship was decided by this much.

In other words, not much.

“Look, it was close,’’ general manager Chris Ballard said Sunday when a wide-ranging Zoom conference call turned to the Indianapolis Colts opting for Blankenship. “You’re splitting hairs between two pretty good players.

“We all think he’s just got something to him. We all like Chase. We think Chase is going to kick in the league. But at the end of the day, we were splitting hairs between the two guys. We’d all done a lot of work in the pre-draft process with Rod. We saw what we needed to see here.’’

In search of a successor for future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri, the Colts arranged a Blankenship versus McLaughlin battle throughout training camp. McLaughlin might have entered as the slight favorite after performing admirably over the final month of 2019 after a knee injury ended Vinatieri’s 24th season: 5-of-6 on field-goal attempts, 11-of-11 on PATs.

Blankenship was the recipient of the Lou Groza Award as senior at Georgia, but brought only potential to the competition. In college, he converted 82.5 percent of his field-goal attempts (80-of-97) and was perfect on 200 PATs. As a senior, he knocked down 27-of-33 field-goal attempts (81.8 percent).

But as Ballard noted, the Colts saw something they liked.

That was reinforced as camp unfolded and apparently crystalized Aug. 29 when the Colts held their second workout at Lucas Oil Stadium. While McLaughlin endured a 4-for-7 afternoon, Blankenship was 6-for-7. That included 57- and 56-yarders.

“The first four or five days before y’all got out there, Rod didn’t even miss,’’ Ballard said. “Then he kinda went through a little rough patch. But on the second scrimmage I think he looked really fluid and comfortable.

“At the end of the day it was a tough choice and we just decided to go with Rod.’’

Frank Reich insisted the Blankenship over McLaughlin decision “might have been the toughest and the toughest conversation.

“(McLaughlin) was the incumbent. He performed well last year. It was really difficult, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to project who’s going to be the best kicker for us, who’s going to produce the best.

“We felt like both of these guys were going to end up in the league, feel like they were both going to be good kickers for a lot of years. Tough choice.’’

Blankenship finds himself in a elite company. He’s just the Colts’ sixth opening-day kicker in their Indy era, following Vinatieri, Mike Vanderjagt, Cary Blanchard, Dean Biasucci and Raul Allegre.

He’ll also be just the third rookie to kick for the Colts, joining McLaughlin and Vanderjagt. The latter kicked in the Canadian Football League, but was an NFL rookie in 1998.

About Togiai, Burton

The Colts addressed their thin tight ends room on the waiver wire. They were awarded rookie Noah Togiai, who had been waived by the Philadelphia Eagles.

According to reports out of Philly, the Eagles were high on the Oregon State product and planned on bringing him back to their practice squad. When they signed Togiai as an undrafted rookie, his contract included $100,000 in guarantees. That’s very unusual for an undrafted rookie.

Togiai’s arrival is at least a short-term reaction to the uncertain status of Trey Burton. Burton is expected to miss the first few games with a calf injury.

Ballard said no decision has been made at this time whether to place Burton on the injured reserve list, which would require him to miss the first three games.

“I can’t say yea or nay,’’ Ballard said. “We’ll know more in a couple of days. We’re kinda monitoring where he’s at and . . . whether it’s going to be two or three weeks.’’

Reich credited Ballard and his personnel staff for adding Togiai.

“Had no idea about Noah,’’ he said. “That was Chris and the scouts finding this guy.’’

Once Burton suffered the calf injury, Ballard and his staff began reviewing video of draft-eligible tight ends.

“Our scouts identified Noah as a guy we think can help us,’’ he said. “Without preseason tape you’re not 100 percent sure, but we sure liked what we saw on the college tape and the workout.’’

Although the 6-4, 244-pound Togiai is new to Indy, he’s familiar with Reich’s offense. It’s similar to the Eagles’.

“The system’s obviously very similar,’’ Reich said, “so that should make for a seamless transition.’’

Practice squad filling up

The Colts signed 14 players to their 16-man practice squad: quarterback Chad Kelly, cornerbacks Andre Chachere and Tremon Smith, guard Jake Eldrenkamp, center Joey Hunt, offensive tackle Carter O’Donnell, defensive tackles Kameron Cline, Chris Williams and Rob Windsor, defensive end Gerri Green, tight ends Xavier Grimble and Farrod Green and wideouts Reece Fountain and DeMichael Harris.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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