INDIANAPOLIS – The most famous kicker in Patriots history works just a few hundred feet away and the guy who replaced him missed most of last season due to hip surgery. So for the first time in a while the kicking situation in New England may be a bit murky.
Adam Vinatieri's Hall of Fame-worthy career is coming to an end in Indy, but more importantly Stephen Gostkowski is set to enter the final year of his contract. He is coming off a season that saw him miss five of 23 kicks including four PATs in just four games before he landed on IR.
The 36-year-old Gostkowski would be entering his 15th season and it's certainly possible that Bill Belichick would dip into the draft, just as he did in 2006 when he tabbed Gostkowski in the fourth round out of the Memphis. Three place-kickers were invited to the Scouting Combine and they all spoke on Wednesday.
The most notable of the trio is Georgia's Rodrigo Blankenship, who gained notoriety wearing his trademark Rec Specs while kicking in several big games for the Bulldogs. He came up big in the national title game against Alabama in 2018 when his 51-yard field goal in overtime briefly gave his team the lead.
"I got to play in a lot of games at Georgia that were on the national landscape and I feel that helped me," Blankenship said. "The most important thing for any specialist is your mental game and your mental toughness. It's been a recurring theme with my interviews. Asking how I handle adversity and tough times. I'm just trying to prove I'm going to be resilient even when things aren't going your way.
"Playing at the University of Georgia has been such a great experience. It's allowed me the opportunities to go out and play in high-pressure environments, high-pressure situations playing in games that have an impact on the national landscape each and every year. That's been great in preparing us to do what we do in the toughest situations."
Blankenship enjoyed a strong career at Georgia, making all 200 PATs as well as 80 of 97 field goals, which translates to 82.5 percent. He also showed a strong legs on kickoffs and said he's worked on his hang time for those occasions where the situation calls for a shorter kicks to create field position.
The one element that Blankenship may lack is experience kicking in the elements themselves. Doing his work in Georgia the last four years, his opportunities to kick in bad weather have been lacking, and that's one question he's fielded often this week.
"We had a couple of bad weather games this year. I think about Kentucky and Texas A&M where we had some torrential downpours," Blankenship said. "As far as cold goes we've been blessed to have some more fair weather being in Georgia. So, it's definitely going to be something to get used to going north.
"I tell them that all I can do is control what I can control. There's nothing I can do to alter the weather. I'm just going to go out and focus on my technique and trust that's going to get the job done regardless of the conditions."
The two others joining Blankenship are UCLA's JJ Molson and Georgia Southern's Tyler Bass. Molson, who is a descendant of the Molson Brewery founder, came from high school after a diverse sports background that brought him to football late in high school. He struggled with accuracy throughout his career, making only 51 of 74 attempts for the Bruins. But he has a big leg and has intrigued scouts with his power.
"My kickoffs saved me for sure," Molson admitted. "I had touchbacks on 53 of 61 kickoffs. Scouts have been impressed when they see the ball take off my foot in person. It's different when you watch on film, and that's what I'm looking forward to showing this week."
Bass connected on 54 of 68 field goals and also did a little punting at Georgia Southern. He said he was eager to show teams his mental toughness as well as his strong leg.
"They want to get to know you," Bass said. "I have some experience kicking in the snow at Appalachia State and at UMass during my sophomore year so I don't feel like making that adjustment will be a problem. I'm eager to get the process started."