INDIANAPOLIS – It’s problematic to read between the lines; do so at your own risk.
But it’s hard to not read something into Frank Reich’s tapering endorsement of Rodrigo Blankenship.
Shortly after the third-year kicker sliced a game-winning 42-yard field goal attempt wide right in overtime Sunday at Houston that led to the franchise’s first tie in four decades – 20-20, remember? – Reich was asked if the Indianapolis Colts would be sticking with Blankenship.
“In my mind, he’s our kicker,’’ he said.
Clearly, there were several issues swirling in Reich’s mind and, besides, knee-jerk reactions following a disappointing game are never a good idea. Also, he mentioned any personnel decisions would be made after meeting with general manager Chris Ballard.
Twenty-four hours later, Reich fell well short of offering Blankenship full support.
He, Ballard and their support staff routinely meet Monday evening at 5:45. They gather pertinent information, review video, have discussions with the coordinators and various position coaches.
“Everybody gets evaluated at every position,’’ Reich said Monday. “Then what are we going to do? Are we going to bring people in? Going to stay pat?’’
A pointed question was asked.
Do you still have unwavering faith in your kicker?
“Listen, everything wavers, right?’’ Reich said. “A player’s confidence in his own ability wavers. That’s nothing new in this business. That’s one of the crazy things about this business that I love so much. No matter who you are, if you play long enough, you’re going to have a bad day or bad days, and your confidence is going to waver.
“It’s how you respond to that. And it’s everybody. There’s no exceptions to that. The greatest players in the world, their confidence wavers.’’
The overriding question facing Ballard and Reich: What’s the team’s tolerance level at the position. It’s difficult enough to win in the NFL. Doing so with an unreliable kicker compounds matters.
“It’s a question of, ‘Hey, guy had a bad day. Can he bounce back? Do we have patience for a guy to bounce back?’’’ Reich said. “Those are all the things you think through and talk through.’’
No one should be surprised if Ballard brings in a handful of kickers for a workout Tuesday, just to consider his options moving forward. An obvious candidate is Michael Badgley, who replaced Blankenship over the final 12 games last season after Blankenship suffered a hip injury during pre-game warm-ups in the week 6 overtime loss at Baltimore.
That, by the way, was the last time Blankenship faced a game-winning situation. Dealing with the injury, he was wide left with a 47-yarder as time expired in regulation. He also missed a PAT and had 37-yarder blocked. The Ravens won in overtime, 31-25.
Blankenship endured another bad day Sunday. Before whacking the 42-yard field goal wide right, he thumped a pair of kickoffs out of bounds, including one to open overtime. That gave the Texans possession at their own 40. Fortunately the defense stiffened on each occasion.
Those closing mistakes completely overshadowed 45- and 27-yard field goals Blankenship converted, as well as two PATs.
When it mattered most, he failed to deliver and the Colts sit at 0-0-1 as a result as they prepare for Sunday’s trip to Jacksonville.
Reich was asked how long it was reasonable for the Colts to stick with Blankenship considering they brought in competition during the 2021 training camp (Eddie Pineiro) and this summer (Jake Verity). Blankenship earned the kicking job as a rookie by beating out Chase McLaughlin.
“Fair question,’’ Reich said. “To Rod’s credit, as we brought the heat and brought the competition, every time we’ve done that he’s kind of won those battles.
“That’s what we have to continue to evaluate. Chris and I will sit down and have a long discussion about that tonight and see where we’re at.’’
Blankenship set franchise rookie records in 2020 for points (139), made field goals (32) and PATs (43). He converted a 39-yard field goal in overtime to beat the Green Bay Packers in week 11.
But there’s no ignoring the deficiencies.
Blankenship has converted 46-of-56 field-goal attempts (82.1%) in his career, including the playoffs, and is just 3-of-8 on attempts of at least 46 yards. Including Sunday’s crucial miss, he’s 27-of-31 (87.1%) on attempts of 42 yards and shorter.
Reliable kicking has plagued the Colts since 2019, which was the final season of Adam Vinatieri’s Hall of Fame-worthy career.
Over the last three-plus seasons, Colts kickers are 86-108 (79.6%). They entered the season with the 6th-worst conversion rate since 2019 (80.6%).
Reich wasn’t making any predictions on whether Shaquille Leonard will be available for Sunday’s trip to Jacksonville. The All-Pro linebacker was held out of the Houston game while still recovering from June back surgery.
“Same plan as last week,’’ Reich said.
Leonard was a full practice participant Wednesday, but limited Thursday and Friday.
“As I sit here right now I’d like to say, ‘Hey, maybe he’s got a chance for this week,’’’ Reich said. “I don’t want to underestimate him.
“But we’re going to have to make progress from where we were last week in order to make that step.’’
Matt Pryor started at left tackle against the Texans, but rookie Bernhard Raimann got in on the action.
Pryor handled 80 of the 92 offensive snaps while the team’s 3rd-round draft pick was on the field for 16 plays. Raimann was at left tackle for 12 plays and used as an extra lineman four times.
“The plan was Matt would play most of the game and that we would rotate Bernie in there in a couple of series here and there,’’ Reich said. “That likely will continue to be the plan.
“I sat down with Chris and said, ‘Hey, Bernie’s done enough to show us that we trust him being in there.’ I think it’s meaningful for him to get game reps.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.