Colts Special Teams: Who Replaces Sergio Brown?
By Dave McKee
There are many unrecognized positions in the NFL. Most refer to the Offensive Line as the unsung heroes on a team. On Special Teams, the most unsung position typically isn’t even listed as a need or even an official position. It’s not the kicker, punter or long snapper. Adam Sandler made a great song about the “Lonesome Kicker”, but the gunner never gets mentioned at all. If the kicker is lonesome then the gunner is a complete enigma. It is very likely that some people reading this are still going, “What the heck is a gunner?” Well, the Colts had a player that brought attention to this common omission.
Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Most analysts and fans considered the departure of Sergio Brown this off-season as simply an extra loss of depth at the safety position. During his three seasons with the Colts, Brown played in 45 games while starting in eight. His stat line during his three seasons wearing the horseshoe included 39 tackles, 7 pass deflections and a fumble recovery. Those numbers are decent for a depth player, but are hardly a starter’s production level.
Aside from Brown’s locker room victory celebrations – Give Me two claps and a Ric Flair – Woooooo! – Brown’s his biggest contribution was his impact on special teams. During Brown’s tenure in Indianapolis, he was an integral member of the punt and kickoff teams. His greatest impact was as a gunner on special teams. At 6’2″ and 218 lbs, Brown’s size and surprisingly deceptive speed combined for a natural fit for the position as gunner on the punt unit.
For the past few seasons, the Colts punt team has been at the very top in the NFL in punting. In 2014, the number of punts inside the 20 was an outstanding: 30 punts to only 3 touchbacks. While much of that is attributed to Pat “Boomstick” McAfee‘s skills at coffin corner punting, it is also a testament to the gunners, including Brown, who prevented those punts from becoming touchbacks. Field position is a key element in winning close games and is an even bigger factor in road games. The Colts were 5-3 on the road last year and that continued success is necessary if they are to make their Super bowl 50 dreams a reality.
Colts.com writer Kevin Bowen highlighted Browns impact as a gunner back in 2013. In it, Punter Pat McAfee defined the impact of a gunner on special teams. “People don’t understand the importance of a gunner on a punt team. Sergio is a guy who can change the game not only for me but for our team.” Special Teams Coach Tom McMahon also praised Brown’s impact on special teams:
"The best thing he does is he gets all the way down and then he looks late (meaning his back is facing the opponent’s goal line before turning around to find the ball). At the end of the day when he pins them down there and then forces a 98-yard drive, it makes everybody better."
On November 8th, 2013, the Colts lost their game against the Cincinnati Bengals 42-28, but there were highlights on special teams that got the media’s attention. Twice in the first half while the Colts trailed the Bengals 7-0, the punt team put on a show. The first came with 7:08 left in the first quarter when McAfee boomed a 46-yard punt which was touched down at the 1 yard line by Brown.
Following the next Colts possession, the Colts again were forced to punt and this time Brown put his athleticism on full display. Following another deep punt of 53 yards by McAfee, Brown raced down the sideline beating the ball to the end zone as it bounced, Brown then dove over the line to tap the ball back into play where long snapper Matt Overton downed it at the 4-yard line. What was most amazing was that Brown did this with a cast on one hand.
Despite the loss to the Bengals, both McAfee and Brown proved that the hidden yards battle originating from special teams is a positive impact on the game and kept a struggling offense within striking distance. While that single game was not the only such performance on special teams, it stood out as the game the Colts Special teams emerged into prominence in the net yards and touchback columns categories. Most importantly, it kept the Colts in games they had no business competing in.
The question is with Brown gone – Now a member of AFC South Rival Jacksonville Jaguars – who will step up to assume the role of gunner?
Who will make those high effort plays to prevent the touchback and keep the Colts in those optimal defensive situations with their opponents pinned deep inside the 5 yard line? Will one of the newest members from the 2015 draft class step up? Will some of the recent additions from 2014 – players like Winston Guy, Dewey McDonald, or Colt Anderson become the next star of the special teams units? One can only wonder until training camp comes to a close and see who is on the field at that time, but it is an important piece to the Colts 2015 puzzle if they wish to continue dominating the stat sheet on special teams.