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Is this finally the season Special Teams is good?

So far in preseason, special teams has been a huge improvement. But the real test will come in a few weeks.

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Dallas Cowboys v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Good morning, Broncos Country!

If you ask special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes if he’s seen what he wants from his coverage unit - a unit that kept the Bills inside their 20 a couple of times last weekend - he has a simple answer.


Because anytime a coverage unit gives up 29 yards on the return - even if that same unit held a team inside its 20 several times - the one busted coverage could be the difference maker in a game.

“I’ll say this again: The standard that we’re trying to build around here is different,” Stukes said Thursday. “If you want to be one of those top special teams units, you can’t give up 29-yard returns. I would prefer to kick the ball into the end zone to get a touchback and get them on the 25 instead of the 29, 30, etc.”

What a refreshing idea for special teams - not just competence but a chance for an actual competitive advantage in the game.

The new special teams coach reiterated he is happy with the effort of his players last week - and he does understand it’s a learning process - but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s far less than satisfied with the performance.

“I’m not happy about our kickoff coverage. The guys understand that,” Stukes added. “It’s going to take guys time. I’m not frustrated by that. We have to get into a place where we’re making plays consistently inside the 20-yard line or we’ll hit touchbacks.”

When it comes to the returning side of the equation, Stukes has a lot less to complain about.

Between rookies Montrell Washington and Jalen Virgil, the yards gained after catching the ball has increased dramatically - at least it feels that way. Last week Virgil returned two punts for a total of 60 yards, while Washington added two more for a 55-yard total.

Stukes liked what he saw from Virgil - but he was more impressed by Virgil’s vision through the play rather than just his overall gain.

“I thought he did a good job. Once again, I thought the guys did a good job blocking for him, but he actually set that return up,” Hackett said. “If you actually watch it, he was patient to let the guys get their blocks and sustain their blocks, and then tried to burst through the gap, which is awesome. If we could have finished those blocks [on the] backside, it would have been a longer return.”

One of the trickier parts for Stukes is always reminding his athletic and fast returners that it’s not just about speed on special teams. It’s about intentional speed at the right place and time.

“We’ve all seen how fast that hole closes. If you go running full speed through the hole, there’s going to be a big collision. You have to be smart as a returner,” he said. “You have to feel where guys are in relationship to the blocks and run off the backside of the blocks and then execute. Him hesitating a little bit to set the return up is awesome. That’s what we would prefer him to do.”

Washington - who has shown both vision and speed - has seemingly locked up his roster spot partly due to his receiving abilities within the offense but also most certainly because of his ability to put the Broncos in good field position.

“We believe in Montrell. He has shown what he can do this preseason,” Stukes said. “He’ll be electric once we start sustaining the blocks for a second longer.”

A roster spot still in contention apparently is the punter. WIth Sam Martin sustaining an injury before the preseason matchup in Buffalo, Corliss Waitman took all the reps - punting two times, both averaging over 50 yards.

“That one punt that he punted—it was 5.3 [seconds] hang and 50-some yards or whatever the case may be. We would like to down that, but it’s also guys starting to figure out where they fit within our scheme,” he said.

The ST coordinator was also impressed by Waitman not getting flustered after news suddenly that he’d have to start the game.

“I thought he handled it well. Finding out prior to the game that the other punter is not going and now you have to handle all of the punting duties—it takes mental strength and fortitude to go out there,” Stukes acknowledged, pointing out that Waitman had a punt go 50+ yards with a 5.3 second hang time. “No, you’re locked in for the whole game.”

For the Vikings game, Martin should be back and Stukes plans to alternate kickers each punt.

“That’s the best way to do it. Some people like to do halves, but how many punts—how do you know how many punts you’re going to get in the second half?” Stukes said. “You can get all these punts in the first half and then the offense starts driving the ball and starts scoring points. Now the other punter doesn’t get a true evaluation. Yes, the preference is to have those guys alternate every single punt.”

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