ENGELEWOOD, Colo—The Denver Broncos have some decisions to make on special teams, as they head into training camp in July. Will they continue to carry four specialists, like they did in 2014? Who will be the kicker? And perhaps most intriguing, who will make the final cut at punter?
For much of last season, the Broncos carried Brandon McManus as the kickoff specialist, Connor Barth as the kicker, Britton Colquitt as the punter and Aaron Brewer as the long-snapper. Having four specialists on-roster allocates a very important spot that could be used on a more impactful player, like an offensive lineman, or linebacker.
With a new coaching staff in place, the Broncos are looking to capitalize on each and every spot on the 53-man roster. Burning one of them on a specialist isn’t likely to happen again in 2015, according to special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillas.
“Ideally you’d like to have one punter, one kicker and one long snapper,” DeCamillas said following OTAs last Thursday. “That’s the amount of specialists we’d like to carry going in and that’s what the goal is going in.”
McManus might have a big leg, but his accuracy and poise under pressure are suspect. Gary Kubiak and company aren’t likely to risk rolling the dice on a spotty place kicker in their maiden season in Denver, which gives Barth a leg up on the competition. Barth went 15-of-16 on field goal attempts last season.
The transition from Lonnie Paxton to Brewer, a 2012 undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA), has been seamless. Brewer has done a phenomenal job at long-snapper and contributes a handful of special teams tackles each year. The Broncos signed him to a four-year extension back in March.
The real competition on special teams will be at punter, where Colquitt and newcomer Karl Schmitz are battling it out. Colquitt earned a huge contract extension for his work in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but since then, he has struggled to be effective. The Broncos brought Schmitz in to push Colquitt and so far, they are neck-and-neck.
“Yeah, they’re working (competing) together,” DeCamillas said. “It was a good day today for both of them from the standpoint that they were pretty even and that’s the way it’s been. It’s a good competition so we’ll see how it goes.”
Colquitt is due to make $3.75M in 2015 but the Broncos would save $3M on the salary cap if they cut him before the start of the regular season. Schmitz, a former UDFA out of Jacksonville University (2008), would cost $435,000 for the entire season. That’s a huge gap. And if their competition remains “pretty even” throughout training camp, Colquitt will be on shaky ground.
The question is how will Schmitz perform under pressure in game situations? The Broncos four preseason games will give Kubiak and DeCamillas a good feel for that. One thing that helps Schmitz’s cause over Colquitt is that he is proficient at kickoffs, which would save the Broncos from having to roster McManus, like they did in 2014.
“Karl is the only one that can really kick off; Britton has never done that,” DeCamillas said. “[Schmitz] has done some, but when we had a heavy day, as far as we did today—I think they had 10 punts a piece in team reps—he didn’t kick off today, but he has throughout the camp.”
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General Manager John Elway chose to make Colquitt the league’s highest paid punter in 2013. When your punter is literally helping you win games via the battle for field position, like Colquitt did in ’11 and ’12, paying him so handsomely makes more sense. After two years of mediocrity, however, Elway is done paying for past production.
If Colquitt doesn’t significantly separate himself in the competition with Schmitz, his days in Denver are over. And from the sounds of it, Schmitz is improving already. The competition will likely come down to situational punting.
“He’s [Schmitz] getting better,” DeCamillas said. “It was little rough to start; he just didn’t know what he was doing a lot of times—not punting the ball, but just certain things like where to line up and how we want the ball punted in certain situations, but he’s gotten better.”
With those type of limitations, which come from being out of football for seven years, it’s interesting that Schmitz has already leveled the playing field with Colquitt. This will be a key situation to monitor going into training camp.
Watch Karl Schmitz's sensational YouTube video of him booming punts with ease.