With all the hype about more high profile positions and players, lost in the hoopla has been the vast improvements on Special Teams. A sore spot for the Broncos last year, who can forget Josh McDaniels screaming at special teams coach Mike Priefer after multiple mistakes against the Patriots that could easily have cost Denver the game.
Nothing in sports is more frustrating than watching a huge kick off or punt return by your team only to have it brought back by a penalty; usually something ticky-tack and avoidable. Lapses in focus and discipline in the return game can hurt a team as quickly as anything.
On the flipside, a great accurate kicker can be a weapon. Although not trying to compare, Ray Guy was a disheartening weapon with his booming boots and accurate placement. Last year we had Brett Kern who had a strong leg and kicked it a mile but he got cut for constantly out kicking his coverage and he ended up in the McDoghouse and in Tennessee.
Born to Punt: A Family Affair.
This year the Punting and holding duties have been handed to the second year punting legacy Britton Colquitt, the third person in his family to kick for an NFL Franchise, with his father a former Punter and brother Dustin Colquitt kicking for the Kansas City Chiefs. Inexplicably, Britton was edged out by Kern in the ’09 training camp, and then again by Mitch Berger after Kern’s departure. Colquitt III was added to the roster late in the season after being claimed off the Miami Practice Squad.
This year Britton Colquitt was the punter designate and faced no challenge in OTAs or camp; which in the current competitive climate of the Broncos it a compliment and a sign of trust that McDaniels has in the kicking game this year. The only other players not to face challenge for their position were Lonnie Paxton the long snapper, and Matt Prater, key components of the kicking game.
Bitton Colquitt in the preseason has definately made his family proud. His lofty booming kicks have sent many returners scrambling back to avoid having a punt go over thier heads and hangtime has left them praying for the chance to Fair Catch rather than take the expected shot from gunners wating to light them up.
So far this season Britton Colquitt has 13 punts, with 3 inside the 20, and more importantly ZERO touchbacks. He has averaged 51 YPP with several pushing 60 yards. Last year the combination of Kern and Berger averaged a pedestrian 43 yards per kick
The Electric “Glide”: The Punt Return Game:
Perish Cox and Syd’Quan Thompson brought their dynamic college return prowess to the Broncos return game. So far they have combined for a 24.3 yd per return on punts and long runs of 62 and 65 respectively. The combination of Thompson and Cox has brought anticipation in the return game not felt in Bronco Country since the days of Darrian Gordon and Glynn Milburn. If the trend continues both sides of the punting game has the potential to make or break a lot of close games this year, and give the offense and the defense much appreciated assistance in the field position battle. The
Prince of Place Kicking: Mike Prater
No pressure, just have to replace a Broncos legend, the King of Kicks Jason Elam, the co-owner of the longest made field goal in NFL History. Prater has been strong legged as usual with some of his lapses in accuracy seemingly improving. Troy Aikman commented during the Steelers preseason game that Prater had been making 60 yard Field goals in warm up and he regularly kicks them into the parking lot during practice at Dove Valley.
Last year he inexplicably missed from the shorter 25 – 45 yard range but made everything longer. Also he has the ability to kick it out of the end-zone on every kick both at home and away. Very often he was unable to get that done. This year Prater seems to be living up to his ability, kicking it out of the back of the end zone and making opposing return men unwilling to bring the ball out more often than not when he doesn’t.
His consistency certainly seems to have improved and may have finally begun to show why he was believed to be the heir apparent to the great Jason Elam. Don't discount the holding of Colquitt and the consistant snaps of Lonnie Paxton for helping steady the play of Prater.
On a team trying to change a horrible red-zone touchdown ratio last year, Prater’s leg and accuracy will again be a valuable weapon.
Bringing the Pain: The kick coverage lays the wood.
The Broncos coverage game has improved in both discipline and ferocity. Rookies like Cassius Vaughn and Syd’Quan Thompson have teamed with last years rookie special teams beast David Bruton to lay wood on more than one regretful return specialist for the opposition.
Broncos Punt coverage has held the opposition to 15 yards per return despite a 43 yard return by Adam Jones the first punt return of the preseason in Cincinnati. That is a 10 yard net field position swing every time punts are exchanged.
So far this preseason; opponents have attempted to return only 9 kickoffs for a 17.1 average. Considering the fact that taking a knee gets them a free 20 yards, that is pretty good coverage by the Broncos.
All in all the kicking game appears to have taken a huge step up with the addition of Cox Thompson and Colquitt to add to the steady play of returning Broncos Prator, Paxton, Bruton and McBath among others. If the trend continues, the Broncos could be doing well one of the things their namesakes do best, Kicking!