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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts have received a good deal of praise, and rightfully so, for their ability to find talented playmakers through the NFL Draft in recent seasons.

But perhaps one of the more underrated parts of the scouting process is the ability to uncover the unheralded gems — the guys who don’t have the luxury of being a draft pick — and seeing them also compete for roster spots year in and year out.

The Colts, as it turns out, have been among the league’s best in this area now going on two decades.

Last year, the team decided to keep linebacker Skai Moore and safety George Odum coming out of training camp and the preseason, which represented the 20th straight season in which the Colts have had at least one undrafted rookie free agent make their initial 53-man roster.

So about this time each year it’s become a tradition to ask: will the Colts make it 21 straight years in 2019?

For an outsiders’ perspective, Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox last month assigned grades to all 32 teams based on their 2019 undrafted free agent haul; the Colts received a “B,” and Knox was especially intrigued by Georgia State wide receiver Penny Hart. He wrote:

“Hart is the highlight of Indianapolis’ UDFA class, and he could be a legitimate offensive weapon in year one. He has the speed to stretch the field as a fourth or fifth receiver, and he brings ability as a return specialist. He averaged 19.9 and 17.6 yards per kick and punt return, respectively, in 2018.”

We’re yet to really see Hart in a practice setting with the Colts due to the fact that he sat out rookie minicamp, OTAs and veteran minicamp with an undisclosed injury. But we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for him whenever he is able to return.

But who are the other candidates hoping to catch the coaching staff’s eye and make the Week 1 roster as undrafted rookies? Here are some capsules on the rest of the bunch, courtesy of Colts Communications:

» Ashton Dulin, wide receiver: Dulin, 6-1, 215 pounds, played in 39 career games (29 starts) at Malone University and compiled 189 receptions for 3,188 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 53 times for 387 yards and three touchdowns. As a returner, Dulin totaled 77 kickoff returns for 1,847 yards and three touchdowns and five punt returns for 33 yards. He finished as the program’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, all-purpose yards and kickoff return touchdowns. Dulin ranked second in all-time receiving touchdowns and third in total touchdowns in Malone history. As a senior in 2018, he earned numerous awards, including Great Midwest Athletic Conference Offensive Back of the Year, G-MAC Special Teams Player of the Year, First Team All-G-MAC, Second Team All-Super Region 1 (as a return specialist) and was a nominee for the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II College Football Player of the Year). In 2018, Dulin started all 10 games and caught 61 passes for 984 yards and 11 touchdowns. He registered 13 rushes for 120 yards and one touchdown as well as 28 kickoff returns for 836 yards and three touchdowns. Dulin ranked second among all players in Division II and led all wide receivers in NCAA football (FBS, FCS, DII or DIII) with 194.7 all-purpose yards per game. His three kickoff return touchdowns were the most in Division II. In 2017, Dulin earned First Team All-G-MAC honors after starting all 10 games and compiling 59 receptions for 1,050 yards and 10 touchdowns. He started all nine games in 2016 and caught 50 passes for 825 yards and four touchdowns. As a freshman in 2015, Dulin saw action in all 10 games and tallied 19 receptions for 329 yards and three touchdowns.
» Cole Hedlund, kicker: Hedlund, 5-9, 162 pounds, saw action in 35 games at North Texas (2018) and Arkansas (2014-17) and converted 33-of-46 field goals and 142-of-145 PATs. In 2018, he made 19-of-22 field goals and 51-of-54 PATs to rank 24th in the nation in scoring with 108 points. Hedlund was a First Team All-Conference USA selection and was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, which annually recognizes college football’s top kicker. Prior to transferring to North Texas, he spent four seasons at Arkansas, where he converted 14-of-24 field goals and 91-of-91 PATs. As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Hedlund tied a school record for PATs made in a season (58) and was one of four SEC kickers to make all of his PATs (minimum of 50 attempts).

» Hale Hentges, tight end: Hentges, 6-4, 254 pounds, saw action in 58 games (27 starts) at Alabama and compiled 15 receptions for 124 yards and six touchdowns while playing primarily as a blocking tight end. As a senior in 2018, he played in all 15 games (nine starts) and caught four passes for 34 yards and three touchdowns while serving as one of the Crimson Tide’s four permanent team captains. Hentges was selected as the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year by the conference’s coaches and earned CoSIDA Academic All-District honors. He was also a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award and a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which recognizes an individual as the absolute best in the country for his academic success, football performance and exemplary community leadership. Hentges saw action in all 14 games (13 starts) in 2017 and tallied seven receptions for 75 yards and three touchdowns. In 2016, he appeared in all 15 games (three starts) and collected three catches for 10 yards. As a freshman in 2015, Hentges saw action in 14 games (two starts) and caught one pass for five yards.

» Sterling Shippy, defensive tackle: Shippy, 5-11, 295 pounds, played in 34 games at Alcorn State (2016-18) and totaled 94 tackles (42 solo), 32.5 tackles for loss, 11.0 sacks, two passes defensed, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. In 2018, he was a Second Team AFCA All-America selection after appearing in 13 games and registering 38 tackles (17 solo), 14.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, one pass defensed, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. Shippy saw action in 11 games in 2017 and tallied 17 tackles (eight solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, half a sack and one pass defensed. In 2016, he played in 10 games and finished with 39 tackles (17 solo), 14.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

» Shakial Taylor, cornerback: Taylor, 5-11, 175 pounds, saw action in 21 games at Kansas (2017-18) and compiled 55 tackles (46 solo), 1.0 tackle for loss, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), eight passes defensed and one forced fumble. In 2018, he appeared in 12 games and finished with 33 tackles (28 solo), 1.0 tackle for loss, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), five passes defensed and one forced fumble. Taylor played in nine games in 2017 and recorded 22 tackles (18 solo) and three passes defensed. He played the 2016 season at Mesa Community College, where he saw action in 11 games and collected 42 tackles, half a tackle for loss, one interception and 18 passes defensed. In 2015, Taylor played in 11 games at South Dakota State and tallied seven tackles and one pass defensed.

» Tre Thomas, linebacker: Thomas, 6-1, 221 pounds, played in 51 games (24 starts) at Colorado State (2014-18) and totaled 218 tackles (111 solo), 18.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one interception, six passes defensed and one fumble recovery. His 51 career games tied for fourth in program history. In 2018, Thomas saw action in all 12 games (10 starts) and compiled 101 tackles (42 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, four passes defensed and one fumble recovery. He appeared in all 13 games (one start) in 2017 and registered 41 tackles (23 solo), 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception and two passes defensed. Thomas played in all 13 games (10 starts) in 2016 and tallied 38 tackles (22 solo), 7.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. In 2015, he appeared in all 13 games (three starts) and collected 38 tackles (24 solo) and 5.0 tackles for loss. Thomas redshirted as a true freshman in 2014.

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The oldest player in the National Football League is officially returning for another season.

The Indianapolis Colts kicker have signed a one-year $3.875 million deal with 46-year-old kicker Adam Vinatieri.
This will be the Yankton, SD native’s 24th season in the NFL.

The deal was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday.

A four-time Super Bowl champion, Vinatieri made 23 of his 27 kicks this season, but struggled in the team’s AFC Divisional Round playoff game loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, missing two kicks, including one from 23 yards out. Previously, Vinatieri had been 97-for-97 in his career on kicks of 23 yards or fewer.

Undrafted out of South Dakota State in 1996, Vinatieri spent the first decade of his career with the New England Patriots before joining the Colts in 2006. With the Pats, Vinatieri became the first ever player to decide two Super Bowls with game-winning field goals against the St. Louis Rams at Super Bowl XXXVI and again against the Carolina Panthers at Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Vinatieri is the NFL’s all-time leader in points scored (2,598) and field goals made (582) and is the only player in NFL history to score 1,000 points with two different teams.

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INDIANAPOLIS – They are saying one thing, but doing another. The Indianapolis Colts say they are trying to win this year. But what are they doing?

They are punting.

They have been punting for months now, and as any football coach will tell you, punting is the right play at times. For the Colts, this could be the right time. It is dichotomy we are hearing, not outright double-talk, when General Manager Chris Ballard says on Sunday, “You can’t take these years for granted, and we will put a team out there that will go out and try to compete to win,” and when coach Frank Reich says one day later, “Every decision that we make is a win-now decision.”

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Ballard and Reich were saying those things in direct response to questions about the team’s latest punt, a towering blast that land out of bounds: the release of defensive end John Simon on roster cut-down day Sunday. Simon was the Colts’ most effective defensive end this preseason, and arguably their best defensive player – for sure their most disruptive defender – a year ago. Simon is 27. He has not lost a step. He is in his prime right now.

But the Colts aren’t playing to win right now.

Understand, they aren’t playing to lose. They’re hoping to win this season, but they’re not planning for it, and there’s a difference. Planning to win this year would mean including John Simon on this roster, even if it means giving up on a younger player whose tomorrow looks more promising than his today. And here, I’m talking about rookie Kemoko Turay and second-year pro Tarell Basham. They also play defensive end. Today they don’t play it as well as John Simon, but tomorrow? Things could change tomorrow.

Let’s not make this all about John Simon though, OK? The media tried to do that with Ballard on Sunday, peppering him with questions about the unexpected release of the Colts’ most effective defensive player, until someone apparently crossed a line by asking Ballard if there was “any worry (about) the message it might send to the locker room.”

Ballard, who earlier had professed great affection for Simon – “I’m close with John Simon. He’s one of my favorite guys and favorite players,” he had said – ended the Simon line of questioning with this answer:

“Look,” he said, “John Simon is a great player without any question, but we didn’t just release (Dwight) Freeney or (Robert) Mathis and 14.0 sacks.”

And it’s true. Ballard is correct. Have I written that the Colts released “a Pro Bowl defensive end”? Nope. I wrote: They released their “most effective defensive end.” Which they did. And teams not hoping to win, but planning on it, they don’t release their most effective player at any position. Simon had 2½ sacks in the preseason, and not against players soon to be released, but against actual NFL offensive linemen.

But again, this topic is bigger than Simon, whose release is merely another example of the Colts’ stated intention on the 2018 season. And their intention is to punt.

Hey, good things can happen on a punt. The punt team tracks the ball, does it not? Hopes to down it inside the 5-yard line, or better still, hit the returner and force a fumble and get the ball back. Like I say, punting doesn’t mean surrender. But it does mean: punting.

It means desperately needing skill players on both sides of the ball but waiting for the third day of the three-day 2018 NFL Draft to start grabbing them, stockpiling five picks in the first two rounds – and using every damn one of them on building-block pieces closer to the line of scrimmage.

It means needing a receiver so badly that the Colts picked up an inexpensive Eagles cast-off, Marcus Johnson, on cut-down day Sunday – but never brought in former Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant, far and away the best available receiver, as a prospective free agent. Signing Dez would have been a significant upgrade in talent in the Colts receiving room but a risk in their locker room, and teams playing for tomorrow make the choice the Colts made.

This is not about Dez Bryant, either. It’s about every single big-money free agent available this offseason, none of whom signed with the Colts. Not any. The Colts entered the spring with $70-plus million in cap space – more than 29 of the other 31 NFL teams – and made Denico Autry, who recorded five sacks in 16 games last season in Oakland, their biggest investment at $17.8 million over three seasons.

Coincidentally, Autry plays defensive end. Guess how many sacks he had in the preseason? One-fifth as many as John Simon: 0.5.

Point is not: Simon is better than Autry. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t – it’s close. But the point is: The Colts had so much cap space, and they have so many needs for mega-talent, but they went for pieces, for fits. Autry is a piece. Eric Ebron (two years, $15 million) is a fit at tight end.

Finding a big-money free agent to sign with Indianapolis in March, after a 4-12 season and before quarterback Andrew Luck’s return, would have meant overspending, and the Colts wouldn’t do that. Which is sensible for a team not seriously pursuing a postseason berth.

And the Colts aren’t pursuing the 2018 NFL playoffs. Not seriously. They’re thinking about next season, maybe even the year after that. Ballard has said repeatedly that he wants young players, and he wants to give those young players the chance to develop. Development takes time, and the Colts obviously think they have it.

Do they? Tough call, it really is. In the NFL you’re only as good as your quarterback, and the Colts have that position on lockdown, with Jacoby Brissett a tremendous backup and, of course, Andrew Luck a top-flight QB when healthy. Quarterbacks play longer than almost everyone else – New England’s Tom Brady is 41, New Orleans’ Drew Brees is 39, and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers just became the highest-paid player in NFL history at 34 – so this fact isn’t everything. But it’s something:

Next week, Andrew Luck turns 29.

The Colts have a quarterback, which means they have window – and while it’s not exactly closing, the window is open right now. And the Colts are aiming less for today, more for tomorrow.

Say what you want. Say that it makes sense, what the Colts are doing, and there’s certainly an argument to be made that it does. But there’s also this argument, and it’s not an argument, really. More like a fact:

After reaching the 2014 AFC title game, when Luck was 25, the Colts’ last three mediocre-turned-disastrous seasons backed this franchise far, far away from Super Bowl contention. And by punting the 2018 season, the Colts just pinned themselves deeper.