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Mr. Rodgers Special Broncos Neighborhood

Special Teams are the seldom talked about, but most dynamic part of any football team. Sure, the deep pass is sexy and a great Sack is pretty awesome, but spectacular plays occur more often when the Special Teams are on the field. A good ST's Unit can add a couple victories each season to any football team. This has been a problem for the Denver Broncos in the recent past. When Mike Shanahan was fired in 2008, the ST Coordinator he hired, Scott O'Brien, went with him. In the past, Special Teams was an afterthought for the Broncos franchise. Mike Priefer was hired and he was supposed to bring that afterthought some stability and improvement. 

There were a few good plays in 2009. Eddie Royal had one punt and one kickoff return for touchdowns. Matt Prater improved his numbers. Some of the coverage was better too. However, that didn't offset Lardarius Webb's 95 yard Kick Return or Darren Sproles' 77 yard Punt Return touchdowns. And who can forget the SNAFU in Week 10 when Washington Redskin Punter Hunter Smith passed to Mike Sellers for a 35 yard touchdown off a Fake Punt. Brett Kern and Mitch Berger anyone? Then there were the game-changing penalties that kept biting the Broncos in the butt. The Offsides, Holding and Unnecessary Roughness penalties put plenty of pressure on the Defense, who had to return to the field after stopping the Offense already. In 2010, Punter Britton Colquitt was added and he was a definite improvement, but overall, the Special Teams as a whole went from the 9th Ranked in 2009, to the 19th (Based on Pro Football Focus rankings). So Mike Priefer wasn't the Guru he was built up as. Personally, I thought the Bronco Special Teams would improve vastly as I watched the drills and attention to detail in Training Camp. But penalties and missed assignments are not entirely the player's fault. Good coaching can overcome most of that. Better personnel choices can make a difference too. The ST's coordinator doesn't get to draft the most disciplined player though. He pretty much gets whom ever the backup players are and has to deal with the situation.

Anyway, another regime change occurred this off-season and with the new Head Coach came new Assistant Coaches. The Broncos new Special Teams Coordinator is Jeff Rodgers.

Rodgers previously earned NFL experience with San Francisco from 2003-07, working as the Special Teams Quality Control coach for 2 years before being elevated to Assistant Special Teams coach in 2005. In 2007, Jeff helped Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee finish first in the NFC and 2nd in the NFL in net punting with an average of 41.0 yards and set a league record with 42 punts inside the 20. The 49ers also ranked first in the NFL in kickoff coverage with an opponents’ average drive start of the 24.9-yard line. He took a 1-year post as Special Teams Coordinator at Kansas State in 2008, where he elevated their Special Teams units to among the nation's best. Jeff started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Arizona from 2000-01. His older brother, Jay, is entering his 3rd season on the Broncos’ coaching staff and will serve as a defensive quality control coach in 2011. 

Rodgers is entering his 8th season in the NFL. He worked for Broncos Head Coach John Fox in Carolina for the last 2 years. In 2009, Jeff was the Panthers' Special Teams and Strength and Conditioning Assistant. He was promoted to Special Teams Coordinator on Jan. 30, 2010 and took the Panthers ST's Unit from the bottom of the league to the middle of the pack. The Panthers had their first blocked punt in six years during the 2010 season.

Under Rodgers, Carolina’s Special Teams posted improvements in nearly every statistical category from the previous season, including punt return average (9.6), kickoff return average (21.9) and opponent starting field position after kickoffs (25.0). 

Carolina return man Captain Munnerlyn said:


"Guys are just getting after it more and buying into what Coach Rodgers is telling us. Offensive and defensive guys are stepping up on Special Teams. We're taking a lot of pride in it."

Jordan Senn, a reserve Linebacker for the Panthers last year said:

"I like special teams. It challenges people. It shows what type of person you are: Do you play this game just to play defense and be one of the big names, or do you play because you love the game and want to win?"

"I think it takes special people to play Special Teams in terms of mindset. You'll see some guys make like one good play on Special Teams because everybody is a good athlete out here, but the next play they might not do anything. What is that? That's all in your mindset."

At A Night With the Coaches on May 12th, Rodgers named Eddie Royal, Perrish Cox, Eric Decker and Cassius Vaughn as viable options as to who will handle the kick return duties this year.

In this 4 minute video, Rodgers talks about evaluating the personnel from last years Special Teams. He rated the Kickers, Gunners, Long Snapper and returners as a solid group. The 4 or 5 players available as return men on the Broncos caught his attention. Most teams may only have one option in the return game. The cover guys like David Bruton in particular showed him that there are players on the team that want to play. That "want" is something important to Rodgers.

Jeff stated that he has a 3-part plan for the Broncos Special Teams Units. 

  • Set a Standard to maintain throughout the year, no matter what situation they're in.
  • Be fundamentally sound and take care of their own playing before the opponent. 
  • Win the situational battles.

Now I realize that I look at things with a bit of a Kool-Aid bias, but watch that video and see if you feel as positive as I do for our Special Teams in the near future.

One more thing. Every rookie that the Broncos selected in this years Draft is a candidate for Special Teams. Defensive Backs, Linebackers and Tight Ends are huge parts of Special Teams, so it appears that Team EFX didn't ignore that part of the team.

Just in case you missed them or weren't a member at the time, I posted a few articles about Special Teams last year. They are here for your enlightenment.

Go Broncos!