Most of the attention is paid towards the Denver Broncos offense or defense, but special teams can be every bit as important when it comes to winning and losing. Think of every kick Brandon McManus makes or the game-clinching blocked extra point return against the New Orleans Saints last season.
Special Teams has the ability to change the course of games and new Broncos Special Teams Coordinator Brock Olivo wants his unit to own some of that glory this season. Meeting with the media on Monday, Olivo started to talk about his units role on the team.
“It starts with players, it's all about those guys,” Olivo said of the importance of special teams. “We try to keep it really simple, so they can play fast. We K.I.L.L. it. We keep it rock and roll and learnable so they can cut it loose and play fast. That's what wins in special teams in the NFL, speed and toughness. The X's and O's piece, that's easy with respect to the other things they have to bring to the table—toughness and grit, we talk about that all the time.”
The importance of building depth on the roster must align with that of contributing on special teams. You can be a rock solid second-stringer, but if you can’t play on special teams your value could plummet on some rosters. It appears the Broncos will have one such roster.
“Coach Joseph is behind us 100 percent when he says that special teams are a third of what we do,” Olivo explained. “That bottom piece of the roster, that bottom 25 percent of the roster, they better be contributing on special teams if their position allows them to. He takes it very seriously and we're very fortunate to have a head coach like that.”
When us fans start breaking down our roster projections - yes, a lot of us do that - over the next several weeks, it might be a good idea to have a keen eye on who Olivo mentions by name. Especially when it comes to what he views as leadership positions on the special teams unit.
“Jano definitely had leadership qualities and he's definitely up there,” Olivo replied when asked who are the leaders on special teams. “Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer, those are guys who are veterans who have been four-phasers in the past and will be coming up. Shaquil Barrett and Corey Nelson, we have some younger guys, Virgil Green, even though he's not a four-phaser, he has that presence about him that the guys automatically look up to him.”
I took a lot of flak for putting Bennie Fowler over Jordan Taylor on my 53-man roster projection a few weeks ago, but I did it purely based on Fowler’s value on special teams over which guy was actually a better wide receiver. I stand by that projection.
Some of you may have heard that rookie Isaiah McKenzie muffed a punt on Monday, bringing us all back to the days of Trindon Holliday, but Olivo wasn’t concerned about McKenzie’s hands.
“He dropped a punt, which is an unusual occurrence for him,” Olivo said. “He's usually spot on. I don't know if you saw it, but he was out here and he caught probably 50 punts. That's the kind of kid he is, he's a budding pro. We're happy about that.”
I can give a mulligan in practice. From all accounts, McKenzie is going to be lightning in a bottle on both offense and special teams in 2017.
All said, Olivo is focused on building a very strong core on special teams. A unit that covers well and returns well. A unit that makes big plays in pressure moments. I love that.