ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In a press conference in which Vance Joseph defended his decision to play Isaiah McKenzie on Sunday, noting that McKenzie can be a "special returner," the Broncos head coach also let a room full of media know that, after his latest mistake, McKenzie had lost his job for good this year.
"Right now, we can't afford to chance the ball being on the ground," Joseph explained. "So we're going to sit him back down again and let Jordan Taylor do it for the rest of the season."
It's been a tough year for McKenzie, who has made far more mistakes and far fewer explosive plays than he's used to.
In speaking with him in the locker room Monday, it was clear McKenzie was disappointed in himself, but he also expressed clear frustration with the fact that he wasn't made aware of his benching before the media was.
"They're talking to me like everything's okay and it's not okay, and I know it's not okay but—it is what it is," the rookie told BSN Denver.
As Joseph pointed out, McKenzie has shown big-play potential, he boasts a long return of 44 yards this season and ranks 11th in total punt return yards. Unfortunately for the kid, he has also fumbled the ball an egregious six times from that position, including his latest mistake, a fumble in the end zone that resulted in a safety.
"I'm just trying to make a play, man," he said, admitting he's pressing a bit. "I'm not used to not scoring touchdowns or making big plays so it's just hard for me. I barely play offense, so every time I touch the ball I'm trying to do something with it. But, you know, I'm in the situation I'm in right now because of that."
"At that moment," he added, "Coach said, 'No matter what, catch the ball and try to return it,' so that's what I did."
In the end, despite the benching and the ensuing frustration, Joseph continued to stand behind McKenzie, even hinting towards the young player getting another chance next season.
"I’m not down on him, he’s a young player," he concluded. "You watch the guy yesterday—I was telling Pat (Exec. VP of Public and Community Relations Patrick Smyth) this story this morning about No. 19 (WR Jakeem Grant) for the Dolphins—very similar player. He has a very similar story. Last season in Miami, we sat him down from Week 8 until the end of the season because he couldn’t secure the ball. You watch him yesterday, that’s a really confident returner. We hope that happens with Isaiah."