To conclude this series, we will finally dissect one of the most overlooked but most important areas of any and every NFL team: the special teams unit.
In 2008, Denver Broncos fans looked at this area of the team with an eye of uncertainty. Not only were the Broncos going to feature a brand new punter, but longtime kicker and future Ring of Famer Jason Elam bolted town for the Atlanta Falcons.
Since the rest of Denver's 2008 squad had the youth theme in common, Mike Shanahan must have seen fit to hire two very youthful replacements at the kicker and punter positions, so he did.
Late in the 2007 season, the Broncos brought in rookie Matt Prater to be their kickoff specialist since clearly Jason Elam's leg had lost some power.
The rookie out of Central Florida had spent time with the Falcons and Dolphins, and while he was a fairly quiet acquisition late in 2007, he was expected to resume kickoff duties with the Broncos for a while.
After the departure of Elam, the Broncos felt as though they had a nice prospect in the second year kicker, so they kept him around to be the featured man at the position.
Little did he know what kind of roller-coaster ride he was in for.
In his second NFL season, which turned out to be his first as a full-time player, Prater definitely had his share of moments—both bad and good.
After nailing all but one of his first 14 attempts, something horrendous happened to Prater.
Nobody knows if it was mental or if perhaps the physical toll was something he had never previously endured, but what started off as a Pro Bowl caliber season quickly turned into a downward spiral.
After the Broncos' bye week in week eight, Prater only made 12 of his next 20 field goal attempts.
He finished 2008 hitting 73.5 percent of his attempts, which is mediocre at best.
Prater heads into 2009 as the lone kicker on the entire Broncos roster, meaning the coaching staff has given him a huge vote of confidence for next season.
There is no doubt he has serious talent, as many Bronco fans who attended a particular session of 2008 training camp will attest to the fact that Prater nailed a 70 yard field goal with plenty of room to spare.
Was it the grueling 16 game schedule that got to Prater, or did he just simply lose confidence after a couple of clutch missed attempts?
Nobody knows for sure, but my guess is that if it were an issue of confidence, Prater would be looking for a job right now.
Bronco fans should rest easy knowing they can rely on the leg of Prater, for he is not the only kicker to have troubles in his first full NFL campaign.
As an article on MileHighReport points out, Jason Elam, Adam Vinatieri, and Morten Anderson all had field goal percentages of 74.3, 77.1, and 75 percent respectively.
As for the punter position, the Broncos have a pretty good young option in 2008 undrafted free agent Brett Kern from Toledo.
Kern had a very respectable rookie season for the Broncos, earning All-Rookie team selections by Pro Football Weekly and The Sporting News.
He ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per attempt with 46.7 on 46 punts, which is the third highest number by any punter in Broncos history.
Out of his 46 punts, he was only able to pin his opponents inside the 20 yard line 13 times. That number figures to increase with experience.
Kern has a very strong leg, which can often result in bigger returns, but if he can improve his hangtime and accuracy, he will give the Broncos yet another weapon on special teams.
The Broncos also added undrafted free agent Britton Colquitt of Tennessee, who is the brother of fellow NFL punter Dustin Colquitt.
Colquitt will not be able to make this team based on family NFL pedigree alone, but he is also a solid punter in his own right.
The special teams unit is led by long-time coordinator Mike Priefer, who brings the Broncos seven years of experience in this field from the Kansas City Chiefs.