Monday, June 23, 2008

'08 Bronco Special Teams

We have been asked to discuss place-kicking and punting and we are nothing if not responsive to requests. In fact, see that little comment thing down there? No, not that, the comment ... yes, that's it. TALK US. WE LISTEN YOU. Sorry, just love speaking caveman.

Well, placekicking and punting are just a part of Special Teams (hereinafter referred to as ST). Kickoff Returners and Punt Returners are also just a part of ST. Basically it's any change of possession plus Extra Point Attempt (XPA) and Field Goal Attempt (FGA). We're talking: Punt (P); Punt Return (PR); Kickoff (KO); Kickoff Return (KOR). Kick coverage requires tackling so some equate it with defense although I think the NFL tallies ST tackles in a separate category. Kick/punt returns produce yards, but they are lumped with the returns of fumbles or interceptions (at least that's how I do it) as a change of possession.

In the NFL, and for the Broncos this season especially, ST are a place where players can showcase their basic football abilities: running, blocking and tackling. Last season most of the deficiencies on Bronco ST can be attributed to poor running, blocking and tackling. Yes, I know, that sounds repetitious, doesn't it? Sorry, but that's football ... running, blocking and tackling. That's what the guy whose name is on the NFL Championship Trophy always said ... Vince somebody ...? I know how fans like to blame all bad returns on the returner and all bad kicks on the kicker, but it's a team game ... ten other guys ... hello.

Bronco offseason acquisitions (not inquisitions) are bristling with players who can have an instant impact on ST: Nikos Koutouvides, Spencer Larsen, Wesley Woodyard, Marquand Manuel, Josh Barrett, Keary Colbert, Lorne Sam, Eddie Royal, Jack Williams, Brett Kern, Garrett Hartley, Ryan Torain and Anthony Aldridge. When you add that to Jordan Beck et al. from '07, that's a bunch of fresh legs. Speaking of which, If you haven't read "Do we or don't we want to fill our football pants?", look it up here to your right. It definitely has a bearing on ST.

As alluded to previously, ST is not rocket science ... , it's basic football. Kick coverage is, see the field? You know, that big green thing with white lines and numbers on it? Use that stuff (numbers, hash marks, etc.) as guidelines to ... guide you ... as you RUN TOP SPEED DOWN THE FIELD WITH NO REGARD FOR YOUR OWN PERSONAL SAFETY. Each guy has his own lane ... no road rage now. Run your lane, run through blocks not around them, find the guy with the ball, break down, head (the thing with your eyes in it) in front, wrap up and drive your feet. By the way, here's a place where those 40 yd. times really mean something.

Kick/punt returns are also very simple: right, left or middle return; maybe some kind of reverse/fake reverse on KOR. Here's where that thing called b-l-o-c-k-i-n-g comes in. It doesn't have to be a pancake. A block consists of getting between the guy you want to block and your returner. You are wearing all that protective equipment though; why not HIT SOMEBODY? Got pads in your pants? No clipping! Watch out for fake punts and onsides kicks.

Here's something I've always wondered about in relation to the NFL roster limit. Instead of having a special long snapper (no fishing license required), have several guys, linemen, TEs, LBs, etc. prepared to do that. There's one roster spot (nothing personal, Mike). Then, how about you have one guy who punts and placekicks? He'll need to be be a regular sized football player, not one of those tiny guys. Remember, punter and kicker-offer must tackle. There's a second roster spot. Or, on KO, what if we find several guys on the team capable of hanging the kick up and have it consistently come down on the number 10? That way you could run jaws on KO coverage plus have a real headhunter in there instead of a kicker. Just wondering.

Going into training camp next month, the Broncos have two of each, punters and place kickers. P Sam Paulescu, Oregon State, is in his second year and his competition is Brett Kern, a rookie from Toledo. PK Matt Prater, Central Florida, is also in his second year and his rookie counterpart is Garrett Hartley, Oklahoma. Kick-o-rama is almost here! Guess I expected more candidates. There was another P, Danny Baugher, but he was released. The Broncos will be on the lookout for more guys. Mike Dragosavich was signed as a CFA by the Patriots but was released recently, if I'm not mistaken. Those punters need to take as few steps as possible and stroke it just like a golf swing or a baseball batter with good consistent contact and follow through. For XPA/FGA the hashmarks are lined up on the goalposts. Keep your head down and follow through. Kick the bottom of the ball on XPA for liftoff. It's not kicking/punting ... IT'S AN ADVENTURE! Punters will get reps holding for XPA/FGA. This is where the LS, the line (all locked up), and the wings must allow no penetration.

I know that many Bronco fans are still in shock and denial about Jason Elam. Some of our brethern have said that Elam's range has been decreasing. I don't know. All I can think of is all those winning clutch kicks. We need to realize that: Jason still wants to kick: Jason wants appropriate remuneration for his services; Jason wants to set unbreakable records before retirement; and, Jason thinks kicking in a building will help. Hey, Brett Kern is #1 now if that's any consolation ... no? I expect the loser of each kicking competition to be on the Practice Squad, just in case. Look for the Broncos to bring in more kickers and punters for tryouts until they find what they need: reliability and consistency. Hey, in '07 I was excited about Sauerbrun returning to Denver ... until the game at Chicago.

And finally, the returners. It's a cliche that you can't coach speed. You actually can in high school because a lot of kids just don't know how to run economically yet. That's why so many HS football coaches also coach track and field. By the time a player reaches the NFL, however, that cliche is pretty true. Some have criticized the Broncos' returners in '07. My own impression was the blocking wasn't there. At any rate, Shanahan has loaded up with some speed demons for kick/punt returns: Eddie Royal, Anthony Aldridge, Samie Parker, Jack Williams and Josh Barrett (maybe). Did I leave anyone out? Andre Hall?

Attention all diehard Bronco fans! During preseason games don't leave your seat! Especially during P, PR, KO, KOR, XPA, FGA because it will be exciting! A whole bunch of guys trying to make the team will be trying to get your attention. They deserve it.

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