ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—His teammates held their breath as Brandon McManus’ 70-yard field goal attempt twirled end-over-end through a clear blue Colorado sky Tuesday morning. Then, despite it's seemingly impossible distance, the ball cleared the crossbar with room to spare.
Teammates leaped in the air, hooped and hollered, and celebrated McManus’ powerful leg. “It got a stronger reaction than anything else in two and a half weeks,” KKFN’s Sandy Clough said during his midday radio show.
McManus’ booming kick in training camp Tuesday was the latest sign that a consensus may be forming in the Broncos ongoing kicking competition between McManus and eight-year veteran Connor Barth, and it isn’t the one fans would have expected at the start of training camp. Brandon McManus is well on his way to being Denver’s starting kicker in 2015.
McManus got the opportunity to kick for the Broncos following the suspension and subsequent release of Matt Prater last season, due to Prater's continued problem with alcohol abuse. The Broncos released McManus, following a mid-season slump that saw him miss three mid-range kicks in a five-game span.
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The job was given to Barth, who had been signed off the street not long before. Meanwhile, McManus, who possesses a more powerful leg, was re-signed to handle kickoff responsibilities. The Broncos kept three kickers on the roster for the latter half of the 2014 season, that’s something special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis says won’t happen again.
Having a powerful leg, which is more suitable for kickoffs, is one of the primary reasons McManus is sneaking his way to the top of the Broncos kicking competition. While McManus consistently lands kickoffs inside the endzone, Barth has struggled to get them inside the five-yard line, often resulting in dangerous return opportunities.
DeCamillis hinted that Barth’s inability to kick off will play a role in their ultimate decision.
“The kick off thing is going to come into play, for whoever that guy is,” DeCamillis said today. “You have to be able to do both.”
Thus far, Barth has shown an inability to do both consistently. Meanwhile, McManus is exuding confidence, and showing off the elite power in his leg.
“I actually told coach DeCamillis that I could make this one,” McManus said. “I don’t know if he believed me or not, so I saw him smirk at me and he went over to coach Kubiak. I just waited for them to make the call. I knew I could get it there.”
McManus has also shown improved accuracy, an issue that plagued him during the 2014 season. He was perfect during the Broncos first exhibition matchup in Seattle, and has shown quality and consistency throughout training camp.
It should be noted that Barth isn’t going quietly into the night. During Tuesday’s work out, Barth made a 65-yard kick, and has shown more consistent accuracy on mid-range kicks during camp.
However, if McManus can continue to show improved accuracy on his field goals, it will be difficult for the Broncos not to choose him. Head coach Gary Kubiak isn’t willing to acknowledge it publicly yet, but there’s a palpable sense at Dove Valley that things are shifting in McManus’ direction.
“It’s been a good battle between those two,” Kubiak said. “It’s going to be a tough decision down the road.”
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