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Rookie Isaiah McKenzie earns starting spot as Broncos’ punt returner

That’s one camp battle decided, at least.

Good morning, Broncos Country!

So we may have no idea who the starting quarterback is going to be for the season, but we do know who will be returning punts - rookie speedster Isaiah McKenzie.

Head coach Vance Joseph said after the scrimmage on Saturday that McKenzie - who had been noted early on in OTAs as a standout rookie, “won the job.”

The former Georgia Bulldog earned the starting rank thanks to not only his speed but his ability to catch the ball too.

“That’s what he’s been doing since he got here. …We’ve all seen guys that are really, really fast, but can’t catch the football. He can catch the football,” Joseph said. “I trust him to be our guy Week 1 against the Chargers. He’s the punt returner. That’s why he was drafted. He’s the first guy out.”

Seems simple enough for a player whose main position revolves around catching the ball, but a rock coming from 100 feet up in the air while 11 guys are gunning for you is not the easiest to catch.

And McKenzie was reminded of that the hard way when he muffed a punt earlier in training camp.

No matter. He stayed late that day to catch 50 more punts after practice.

“He is head strong. Nothing bothers him,” Joseph added. “He’s had some bad days and you can’t tell. He’s even as I’ve ever seen a rookie.”

During the scrimmage, “Little Crawfish” (as nicknamed by Von Miller) – busted out two long punt returns and caught a 10-yard pass from Trevor Siemian for the No. 2 offense.

At Georgia, the “5-foot-nothin’, 100-and-nothin’” wide receiver caught 44 catches for 633 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. On special teams, McKenzie returned 59 punts for 692 yards with five touchdowns as well as 17 kickoffs for 375 yards with one touchdown.

McKenzie added on Monday that he’s looking forward to proving himself on Thursday.

“Just making big plays, making big plays on the offense and showing coaches I can make big plays on special teams, offense and everything like that,” he said. “Just doing my job.”

And if you’re wondering, McKenzie knows he’s small for an NFL player, but he has an answer for anyone who wants to point it out: “I can run though.”

He’s won over Miller.

“He's going to do a lot of good stuff for us this year,” Miller said. “So I'm proud of him.”

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Poll

How much improved is your confidence level in the Broncos return game now that they have Isaiah McKenzie fielding punts?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Sooooo much improved
    (109 votes)
  • 38%
    A little - I’m optimistic but not holding my breath
    (77 votes)
  • 7%
    Negligible until I see it consistently improved in games
    (16 votes)
202 votes total Vote Now