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Britton Colquitt and the Big Play

Perhaps the team's punter being their best kept secret means good things are on the horizon.

Still, the Broncos have had absolutely miserable production from their punter over the last ten years.  There has been no real consistency, and last year was a prime example of it.  After six games, the Broncos let go of Brett Kern, who by all accounts had been doing a solid job.  They weren't impressed.

The Broncos cut Kern midway through the season and signed veteran Mitch Berger, who had a few small rays of decent play, but overall, he really played a big part in the Broncos' collapse.  I don't know hard statistics, but despite the fact that Denver already has one of the league's top field position weapons in kicker Matt Prater, it seemed they were giving up field position to the opposition far too often.

This pre-season, it appears as though they have once again found an undrafted gem for their special teams unit.  Second year player Britton Colquitt lost the job to Brett Kern last offseason, though it appeared as though he should have won it based on pre-season play.  Either way, the Broncos let him go, and he spent last season on the Miami Dolphins' practice squad.

This offseason, the Broncos signed him back to their team, and though they also had A.J. Trapasso for a brief period of time, Colquitt entered training camp as the lone punter on the roster. 

It seemed like an odd move considering most positions on the team have competition and depth.  But the Broncos put all their chips in the middle with Colquitt, not unlike the move they made before the 2009 season when they went into camp with Matt Prater as the only kicker on the roster.

Prater responded by becoming one of the league's better kickers, and it appears as though the Broncos made a great move by putting a huge vote of confidence in him.

Colquitt is in the exact same boat as Prater was a year ago.  If he was going to lose the punter position, it wouldn't be because of anyone but himself.  If the pre-season is any indication, he has put in the required work and will become a very important weapon for the Denver Broncos in 2010.

I'm not going to act like Colquitt has really accomplished anything yet because he hasn't.  But he's made lemonade out of lemons, and that's exactly what the Broncos have asked him to do so far. 

The offense has done a nice job of keeping him off the field, only punting 13 times, which is tied for fifth in the league right now.  On those 13 kicks, Colquitt is averaging just over 51 yards, and is currently third behind Shane Lechler and Jon Ryan, only by mere inches.

Colquitt's talents were on full display Sunday night when he averaged 56 yards a kick, two of which were inside the 20 and one that was fair caught.  That's a testament to the Broncos' coverage units as well, but the field position battle is one of the most important in the game.

So what am I really getting at here?

Well, the Broncos are currently one of the league's worst defenses in the pre-season.  Their 32nd run defense is probably the most concerning aspect of the team.  That being said, the Steelers ran for over 170 yards against the Broncos on Sunday night, yet Denver's defense seemed to dominate the game throughout.  They allowed only 17 points, and seven of those came on a drive that started from the five yard line.

Broken plays are still part of the game.  You can say, "Well, if not for this and that, the defense played pretty well against the run."  Unfortunately, those broken plays happen, and they factor into the outcomes of games.  Thankfully, the Broncos absolutely dominated the field position battle on Sunday night, and they were able to control the Steelers throughout. 

If you can push the opposing team back far enough, a porous run defense might not stand out as much, and it might give your team more opportunity to make a big play on defense or special teams as we saw the Broncos do multiple times against Pittsburgh.

We all saw the big run by Dennis Dixon.  That wasn't so much the fault of the defense as it was a nice play by Dixon, but 29 yards from the quarterback on a broken play is still unacceptable.  There were also multiple occasions when Rashard Mendenhall seemed to break away from the original pile and make more than something out of nothing.

It seems as though if the Broncos can take away the big plays, Colquitt can be an even more valuable weapon.  Jonathan Dwyer had 89 yards on 13 carries, 40 of which came on a single play.  12 carries for 49 yards is still pretty good, but if he had not broken that big run and stuck to his average, he might have had 13 carries for 53 yards, which is much less ugly.

Or look at Dennis Dixon's run for 29 yards.  Had he been sacked or even tackled at the line of scrimmage, his stat line would have read three carries for four yards.

Likewise, Rashard Mendenhall breaking off of the right tackle and completely reversing field for an 11 yard gain should have been a run for no gain.  Had that been the case, he would have had five carries for 17 yards, just over three per attempt.

But like I said, big plays are part of the game.  Broken plays are part of the game.  The Broncos have to get better in that area so that Colquitt's talents are not being wasted.  The offense has done a solid job of keeping Colquitt off the field.  Four punts a game is not the end of the world for a football team, especially if he is pinning the opponent deep.  But the Broncos' offense has been very, very good so far in the pre-season, and there's no reason they shouldn't score three or more touchdowns per game with the weapon they now possess at the punter position.

Colquitt is proving he can pin opponents deep on their own side of the field from basically anywhere on the field.  It is now up to the Broncos' run defense to limit the big play, because with Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Shonn Greene, and Frank Gore on the schedule, if they can't limit big plays, they are going to be in huge trouble.