Denver Broncos: Special Teams Spotlight

Jennifer EakinsContributor IAugust 5, 2012

August 27, 2011; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers walks his sidelines during the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at Sports Authority Field. The Broncos defeated the Seahawks 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

With training camp in full swing, the Denver Broncos' focus has mostly been on prized free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning and his talented young corps of wide receivers.

The much-needed improvement of the defense has also been featured, with the acquisition of cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence as well as safety Mike Adams.

One area of the Broncos that tends to get overlooked is the play of the special teams. They are an integral part of any NFL team and their level of play can win or lose football games around the league.

Here's a look at how the Denver special teams is shaping up for the 2012 season.


Their Fearless Leader: Jeff Rodgers

2012 will be Rodgers' second season as the special teams coordinator. He came to Denver from the Carolina Panthers, where he spent two seasons in the same capacity under current Broncos head coach John Fox.

In his first season with the squad, the Broncos went from being ranked 26th to finishing as the 10th ranked overall special teams unit in the league. They elevated their numbers in every important statistical category and were a key element of the improbable wins down the stretch for the Denver Broncos. 


Britton Colquitt: A Punting Gem

In a typically undervalued and under-appreciated role on the squad, Britton Colquitt has managed to shine as the Broncos punter.

Last season, he finished with an impressive 47.4 yards per punt average and, more importantly, was ranked second in the NFL for punts downed inside the 20-yard line, with 33.

Colquitt's clutch play has made him a solid, dependable member of the Broncos' special teams unit. At only 27 years old, look for him to have another successful year with fellow University of Tennessee alumnus Peyton Manning in town.


Four More Years of Matt Prater

Last month, the Broncos' placekicker inked a four-year contract worth $13 million, including a $3 million signing bonus. This makes him the third highest paid kicker in the NFL, behind Sebastian Janikowski of the Raiders and Stephen Gostkowski of New England.

Prater was responsible for four game-winning field goals last season and also led the league in touchback percentage, with 47 of his 67 kickoffs not returned.

This year should pan out differently for Prater. He won't be called upon for the long game-winners as much now that the offense looks so different. With Manning now behind center, Prater will most likely execute more chip-shots than bombs throughout the season. 


He should still remain a clutch kicker when his number is called and prove that his new contract was well worth its price. It is great to know that Matt Prater can nail a huge kick if necessary, right? 



Eric Decker Will Be Fresh For Peyton Manning

Until Saturday, Eric Decker was considered the main return man for the Broncos. Last season, he split those duties with Eddie Royal, Quan Cosby and Matthew Willis. Only Willis remains a Bronco, and he doesn't appear to be able to handle the duties of both kick and punt returner.

Denver signed NFL veteran Jim Leonhard this past Saturday; he has spent the past three seasons with the New York Jets.

One of the reasons Leonard was brought in was to hopefully alleviate some, if not all of Eric Decker's special teams duties, allowing Decker to fully concentrate on catching balls from Peyton Manning.

Though most of the focus is very rarely on the special teams guys, all of them play a vital role on an NFL roster. Winning the Super Bowl is extremely difficult to accomplish with a poor special teams unit.

With the improvement on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, along with a few minor tweaks to the already solid special teams, the Broncos have set themselves up for a highly successful 2012 season.