Broncos special-teams' woes also indication of roster weaknesses

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In many ways, the Denver Broncos' failed 2017 season was a failure of fundamentals.

And nowhere was that more evident than on special teams in what was an end-to-end struggle that ultimately cost Brock Olivo his job after just one season with the team. Tom McMahon has now been tasked to clean up the mess as the Broncos’ new special-teams coordinator.

"I’ll be upfront with you," McMahon said last week at the Senior Bowl. "I don’t get into the past. I’m a big fix guy. I’m not going to be a fault guy. Anything that happens ... anything that goes down there that goes bad on special teams, it’s on me. I’m going to fix it though, I guarantee that. I’m a fix guy."

Still, McMahon has quite the to-do list. Especially given that many in the league consider special-teams performance a combination of coaching and overall roster strength as many of the players on those units are backups or role players.

And as the Broncos grind through their preparations for both free agency and the draft in the weeks to come, they’ll have to decide how much McMahon can fix and how much will entail a better collection of players.

Consider just some of the major bobbles:

-- Brandon McManus missed a career-most eight field-goal attempts this season, including two that were blocked.

-- Riley Dixon had two punts blocked, both on similar punt-block schemes, including when the Patriots blocked the first Denver punt of the game in a New England win.

-- Isaiah McKenzie was benched twice as the team’s punt returner as he muffed six punts, losing two. And one of the muffs he recovered he had inexplicably circled back into the Broncos’ end zone during the return and was tackled for a safety.

-- The Broncos had three special-teams penalties in a loss to Buffalo.

-- They surrendered both a punt return and a kickoff return for a touchdown during the season.

-- The Broncos ran a player on to the field late on a fake punt attempt in Buffalo; alerted by the late addition to the Broncos' formation, the Bills then easily stopped the play.

-- They had a delay-of-game penalty just before attempting an onside kick in Miami.

-- They had two games this season when they had two special-teams penalties on the same play.

"I’ve got a job to do," McMahon said. "I’m going to get those guys (right). If there is 12 on the field, that’s on me. We’re going to fix that and it’s going to be right going forward."

Talk of Fame Network’s Rick Gosselin has ranked the NFL's special-teams’ units for the last 39 years. The rankings include a long list of categories and the Broncos came in at No. 31 this season, ahead of only the New York Giants.

The two Super Bowl teams -- New England and Philadelphia -- were No. 3 and No. 13, respectively, in those rankings. And in the Broncos’ loss to the Patriots in November alone, the differences between the two teams simply on special teams were stark as the Broncos surrendered a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, had a punt blocked and fumbled away the Patriots’ first punt of the game.

It all shows the depth of the roster issues for the Broncos that go well beyond the ever-present decision at quarterback. President of football operations/general manager John Elway has already vowed to re-tool the roster anywhere that’s needed and has pointed at special teams in recent weeks.

Coach Vance Joseph hired Olivo after Olivo had worked with Kansas City Chiefs special-teams coordinator Dave Toub. Toub is generally regarded as one of the league’s best. But while Olivo consistently exhibited accountability -- both he and Joseph routinely said the things that caused mistakes had been covered in the team’s practices -- that work often did not show in games.

"We didn’t play like we could," said Broncos wide receiver Cody Latimer, a special-teams regular. "... Those plays can turn games fast, either way."

"That’s an area we need to be better," Joseph said. "... That’s part of winning football, playing winning football, and to do that we have to clean those things up."