ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos return to work for training camp, the clock will officially start for a roster of 90 players that will get pared down to 53 by September.
And that means players on the bubble will have to find a way off and the best way to do that will be to impress special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis. Coach Gary Kubiak has made it clear DeCamillis will have a lot to say.
“It’s important, because here’s the thing -- good head coaches, like [Kubiak] understand you only get 46 [players in uniform] for the game," DeCamillis said. "Everyone talks about the 53 [players on the roster]. Well, that’s important, but really who plays in that first game is important and you have to have the right guys going into that game and I think the more experienced the coach is the better chance you have at getting that right. I’m looking forward to how we’re going to do the personnel end of it here and see who is going to make the team.’’
The rub is, Kubiak, as well as Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway, have said they want as few specialists on the roster as possible. They want multitaskers, players who can contribute in some way on offense or defense as well as play with impact on special teams.
So, while DeCamillis will continue to be on the lookout for players he likes in the kicking game, those players will also have to show at least some ability to fit somewhere in the offense or defense too.
“No question,’’ said safety David Bruton Jr., the Broncos special-teams captain in 2014. “They want to see you take special teams seriously, know your assignments and be ready to jump in and do it, but you have to know something else to if you really want them to look at you. I saw special teams as a way I could separate myself as a younger player when maybe the coaches thought I was even with somebody else on defense. It tips the scales your way, maybe. I tell guys all the time, get to know Coach [DeCamillis]."
Even as their offseason work drew to a close, it was clear the Broncos still have plenty of decisions to make on DeCamillis’ units, including most notably the number of kickers they will keep as well as how things will shake out at punt returner.
The Broncos carried three kickers much of last season because Brandon McManus wasn’t deemed reliable enough to kick field goals, but Connor Barth, who did kick field goals after McManus lost the job, did not kick off with the power and consistency the Broncos wanted. Punter Britton Colquitt does not kick off, so the Broncos have those three as well as Karl Schmitz, a 28-year-old rookie, working to see if they can find two that work.
Kubiak said he wants the roster spot used last season on a third kicker to be allocated somewhere else if possible. That would mean, in the current group, McManus would have to kick off as well as kick field goals and be paired with Colquitt or Schmitz would have to win the punting job and kick off in a pairing with Barth.
“Ideally you’d like to have one punter, one kicker and one long-snapper,’’ DeCamillis said. “That’s the amount of specialists we’d like to carry going in and that’s what the goal is going in.”
At punt returner, wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Norwood and Solomon Patton look to be the top three in the rotation. As a starter the Broncos would prefer not use Sanders in the job, but would give it heavy consideration if one of the team’s backup receivers can’t consistently handle the ball.
DeCamillis said he would always consider using starters on special teams in a variety of roles, but the goal is to fit players into the roles that suit them in the return game and on coverage units.
“I’m constantly in contact with everybody on the staff," DeCamillis said. “Coach Kubiak does a great job of informing us of how they’re ranked, where they’re at offensively and defensively. That’s how you have to go through training camp and go through these parts, is find out where they’re ranked. Because that’s really going to tell more than anything else who’s going to be here and who’s not going to be here … They want to win here. That’s the main key and that’s ingrained in them, so we want the best guys doing their job and I think [Kubiak] is in the same wheelhouse as I am on that.”