Q&A: What's wrong with the Broncos' kick coverage?
By Jeff Legwold
The Denver Post
POSTED: 10/05/2010 05:13:42 PM MDT
UPDATED: 10/05/2010 05:14:22 PM MDT
Today's question about the Broncos comes from Slater Raub in Louisville, Ohio. Send your question via e-mail to email@example.com.
Q: Is it possible to outkick the coverage like they talk about on punts? Would the Broncos be better off not just trying for touchbacks in Denver because their coverage units don't actually get enough game experience covering kicks?
A: Slater, you touch on a couple of long-standing issues. Special teams has long been a problem area for the Broncos, no matter who is coaching them or who is playing on the units.
Doesn't seem to matter if the Broncos don't spend a lot of time in practice on them or if they carve out even more time in practice than ever before as they have done this year for special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
And it is certainly possible to out kick the coverage on punts. It's why not every guy with a spectacular yards-per-punt average makes it in the NFL.
It's not enough to simply boom it as far as you can. There has to be hang time; there has to be accuracy — putting the punt in the best spot for the coverage units against specific returners.
Brett Kern, who now punts for the Titans, was cut by the Broncos last season because the coaches felt like he hit too many low line drives down the middle of the field. Those kinds of kicks allow the returners to get a running start, and then they have room to work with before they get to the first defenders, because the punt didn't hang long enough for the tacklers to close the distance.
The Titans haven't had those complaints about Kern, but it was why the Broncos went to Britton Colquitt this year as their punter.
Looking at the video, the Broncos' troubles in both kickoff and punt coverage this season look to be more in coverage discipline than the kicks themselves. Players seem to be leaving their coverage lanes too early to chase the ball carrier, and that leaves gaps for the returners to run through.
They're also not getting off blocks if they are at the point of attack.
On Marc Mariani's 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Sunday, when Mariani crossed the 20-yard line, there are three Broncos players already on the ground or getting knocked to the ground in the first wave.
And then two of the team's fastest players — Cassius Vaughn and safety David Bruton — were unable to run down the Titans' seventh-round pick from behind as he went up the sideline.
Coaches can tell players on special teams plenty, but in the end they have to do it themselves. It's a tough, blue-collar job. They have to stay on their feet whenever possible, get off their blocks, maintain vision on the ball carrier and squeeze the returner to where the help is.
Overall, though, they'll take touch backs whenever they can get them. However, you're right in terms of a mind-set. If you go from a game where you don't have to face a return because there are six touch backs to one where there aren't any touch backs, the units have to stay mentally sharp.
They shouldn't just run down the field on the touch backs. The good coverage units use them as dress rehearsals to make sure they maintained their lanes and kept themselves in position to make a play had the returner brought the ball out.
Jeff Legwold: 303-954-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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