By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Adam Vinatieri spent 21 seasons perfecting the art of placekicking.
Few have kept the ball between the goal posts so consistently for so long, and no kicker has more signature moments in their portfolio.
So when the graying 44-year-old learned his longtime holder was retiring and his longtime snapper had been released last winter, he didn’t fret. Vinatieri simply went adapted to his new teammates, Jeff Locke and Thomas Hennessy, for season No. 22.
“What’s great is that I can be a student all over again,” the Indianapolis Colts kicker said. “And I can try to help those guys out because I’ve been around for so long. I’ve seen so many things and I’ve been in so many meetings with (special teams coordinator) Tom McMahon, I can explain what he’s seeing, what he expects and where guys need to be.”
Vinatieri is much more than a teacher.
He’s third all-time on the league’s career scoring chart (2,378 points) and third all-time in career field goals made (530) and he’s likely to move to No. 2 in both this season.
He’s the only kicker to make field goals in four Super Bowls, play in five and the only unanimous selection on the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team.
If everything goes as planned, Indy’s home opener , Sept. 17 against Arizona, will mark his 177th game played with the Colts, including the playoffs — matching his career total with New England.
Yet at an age most football players are sitting at home, the league’s oldest player is kicking well. Last year, he scored 125 points, made all but four of 75 kicks and broke the league record for consecutive field goals (44).
Now, after eight years with Pat McAfee as his holder and five years with Matt Overton as his long snapper, Vinatieri is working with a new special teams unit.
“My first thought was that I need to go look at the film and see how he wants it held and how he wants it tilted,” said Locke, a free agent signee who is expected to replace McAfee. “What’s cool is working with a guy like Vinny, who is so consistent that I can tell if I messed up based on where the kick goes.”
To the casual observer, extra points and field goals may look as simple as snap, hold, kick.
Of course, the process is far more complex.
Everything from the timing and getting the laces properly positioned must be done consistently, even for someone as talented and savvy as Vinatieri.
Plus, they’ll need to develop trust among all three players.
“There are little things, like seeing the ball differently on Thomas’ snaps,” Vinatieri said. “It’s a little different than what (Matt) Overton did. It takes a little time to get used to those subtle differences.”
Fortunately for Vinatieri, he’s working with experienced teammates.
Locke was Minnesota’s holder the last four seasons and held the same job at UCLA for two years. Hennessy was Duke’s long-snapper each of the last four seasons.
If first impressions are any indication, the transition should be smooth. There were no glitches in Sunday’s preseason opener against Detroit as Hennessy, an undrafted rookie, tries to hold off linebacker Luke Rhodes for one of Indy’s precious 53 roster spots.
“There’s no extra pressure,” Hennessy said. “Really, you just have to perform at a high level.”
And help Vinatieri produce one more masterpiece.
“I’ve been blessed because I’ve only had a handful of holders and punters. It’s been a few years since we’ve had a new guy,” Vinatieri said. “For us, continuity has been the big thing and we’ve been getting our timing down. It’s all going to be all right.”
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)