If not for a play on special teams in the 1995 preseason we might have never known Terell Davis, the Broncos might have never won back-to-back Superbowls, and John Elway might have never ended his career with a championship. This entire franchise would be different if not for a monster tackle Davis made covering a kickoff in Tokyo.
As the Denver Broncos training camp comes to an end, preseason and roster evaluations are in full-swing, and special teams will play a big part. After all, the first round of cuts is fast approaching as teams must be down to 75 players by Aug. 30.
Particularly in the preseason, when you don’t want to risk injuring your starters, young players and veterans on the roster bubble are getting a chance to shine on special teams and particularly on punt and kick returns.
Special teams coordinator Joe Decamillis is keeping a close eye on two undrafted rookies who are being given ample chances on punt returns; Kalif Raymond and Bralon Addison.
“I think it was solid,” said Decamillis about the performance of those two in the return game last week. “The word I would say is ‘solid.’ I thought the both of them had shown good returning mechanics. I thought they both caught it well made good decisions. I also thought that they both showed some juice so, hopefully, we can get some more holes for them Saturday night.”
Decamillis also explained the importance of having multiple personnel who are able to contribute in the return game, especially when the ball is played short.
“I think that’s going to be a big factor,” said the coach. “Because I think last week there was 29-percent touchbacks, which was way, way, down. I think it was like 60-percent the first preseason game last year, so it’s way down, which is, what I think is going to happen. When you’re working other parts of the field, everybody had their deep returner back that’s not going to be able to cover that (manageable area), so we’re going to have to adjust some alignments, and everybody’s going to have to field in my opinion. It’s going to be a big change.”
Decamillis, as special teams coordinator, has a big say on roster cuts, with the importance of special teams in filling out the back end of a roster.
One such player who’s getting an opportunity to contribute on special teams is running back Ronnie Hillman. The former San Diego State product is trying to consolidate his spot being used on kick returns.
“We’ll have Ronnie out there,” said the coach. “That’s going to be a factor I’m sure, as far as making the roster. We’ll just have to see how that goes. That’s a very competitive position, obviously, so it’s going to be factor.”
Hillman isn’t the only back to get an opportunity on special teams, as Kapri Bibbs, likely Hillman’s biggest threat to making a roster spot, is also being asked to work on kickoff coverage.
“Kapri had a nice cover-play,” said Decamillis. “I don’t want to single anybody out because there are a lot of guys that had good games. We had a good one this week. We had practice against these guys, they were spirited, and they were hard practices. It’s extra work for those young guys, which was good. It’s going to be a good game this week and, hopefully, we can get some of the young guys some quality reps and see what they can do.”
With special teams being a crucial aspect in shaping the back end of an NFL roster, only a privileged group can really be useful to Decamillis.
“A lot of it is body-type,” explained Decamillis in what the looks for in a special teams contributor. “A lot of it is what kind of speed that he has. What position is he adequate to play? They’ve worked throughout all OTAs, so everybody’s done everything.”
With an unproven offense, good field position, and reliable special teams play will be that much more important.
You never know who could get their big break on special teams and run with it, just remember TD.