FOXBORO, MA — There will always be those out there that feel NFL kickers are a dime a dozen.
Football players however are not.
Fortunately for the Patriots they are lucky to have someone who has both of those things wrapped up into one. Place kicker Adam Vinatieri may be considered by many to be just a field goal kicker, but head coach Bill Belichick certainly doesn’t see him that way. The 6th-year veteran and South Dakota State standout works just as hard as every last one of his teammates, and according to Belichick he participates in all the same workouts as everyone else.
“[Adam] kicks the ball for us, but I think when I look at him as a coach and the rest of the team looks at Adam, you don’t really see a kicker, you just see a football player,” said Belichick on Wednesday. “In the offseason programs, all the conditioning, everything we do, he does the same thing everybody else does, it’s no different. It’s not like there’s any special program for him.”
“He runs with the people in his group that he runs with, what we call the intermediate group, the tight ends, the runningbacks, the linebackers, the quarterbacks, [etc]. He does all the running with that group, so as an athlete and just as a pro football player, those are the people he works with and he’s right there with them.”
Vinatieri joined the team when he was signed by then head coach Bill Parcells back on June 28, 1996 as a rookie free agent. He came into camp to compete with veteran Matt Bahr and eventually won the position, and set a franchise rookie record that season by scoring 120-points.
He’s also been very consistent. He set a franchise record when he kicked 25 consecutive field goals without a miss over the span of two seasons, and has scored over a hundred points in every season that he’s been in the league.
Considering he’s done all this while having to kick in a cold weather stadium like Foxboro says something. Belichick says that Vinatieri is one of the best in the business, and he has complete confidence in his player.
“As far as kicking goes, he’s so steady and so consistent,” said Belichick. “We see it out there every day in practice. We’ve had some days where the winds are hard crosswinds or we have to kick into the wind, or the conditions are pretty tough, and you know he handles them probably as well as anybody that I’ve ever been around.”
“He’s just very consistent. In fact, he may do a little better sometimes in those conditions than sometimes he does when it’s almost perfect out there. We’ve just come to have a lot of confidence in him and I think it’s from just seeing him day after day be able to be here, work hard, be well prepared, and whether it’s in the aspects of conditioning, or whether it’s kicking field goals or kicking off, he’s pretty consistent and gives you about what you expect pretty much every time out.
He also provides them with an extra player during kick-off coverages. While most teams have 10-guys covering kicks on kickoffs, Vinatieri has shown he’s not afraid to make a tackle when called upon. He’s made three this season and also is remembered by many for the time he ran down and tackled Herschel Walker. Vinatieri was a linebacker in high-school and hasn’t forgotten how to hit people. He’s saved a couple of touchdowns this season, and that’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s a tough guy,” said Belichick. “He’s a good tackler, he’s saved us a couple of times especially earlier in the year when our coverage was not quite as good as it’s been lately. When [former Patriot kicker Matt] Bahr worked with him, he may have gotten a little bit of that from Matt.”
“I know he’s our kicker and that’s his job, but I think I see him and everybody else sees him as just a football player because he doesn’t do anything any differently than anybody else does, and certainly never looks to beg out of any extra work.”
Vinatieri is in the final year of a three-year contract he signed back on March 12th, 1999. Saturday’s contest could be the final game for Vinatieri in a Patriots uniform in the event he doesn’t re-sign with the team during the offseason. There are many teams that will likely be shopping for a cold-weather kicker after the season, including the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers who may end up taking a look at him.
Belichick has a history of signing guys who he feels are “football players”. If that’s the case then hopefully that means that Vinatieri will end up in a Patriots uniform next season.