Broncos Update Insider: Special Teams Woes

The Denver Broncos have been bad on kickoff coverage all year and rank 31st in the NFL. Read about the special teams problems and what some players have to say about it in today's issue of "Broncos Update Insider."

The Denver Broncos special teams are coming apart at an inopportune time.

The Broncos go to Kansas City to play a Thanksgiving night game. Chiefs returner Dante Hall has had some big games against Denver in the past and he could have another if Denver can't figure out what is wrong with their kick coverage.

The Broncos have been bad on kickoff coverage all year and rank 31st in the NFL. Sunday night was the low point of the season. Chargers returner Michael Turner had many big kickoff returns. Turner averaged 36.5 yards, including two 40-yard returns that set up touchdowns in the second half.

"The most disappointing thing is we've faced better returners," said Broncos linebacker Keith Burns, Denver's special-teams captain. "No offense to Michael Turner, just a mere fact he's a typical running back who is returning the ball. To give up that kind of yardage against a returner like that baffles me."

The Broncos have struggled all season covering kicks. They are 31st in the NFL in kickoff return average allowed.

The Broncos play a few starters on special teams and have other players covering kicks who were high draft picks. Burns said the players weren't the problem.

"It's not about personnel. It's all about want-to," Burns said. "If you want to get the job done, you'll get it done. You've got some guys out there that, for whatever reason, felt they were doing their job but if you go back and look at film, you have to be where you're supposed to be at, bottom line."

The Broncos' special teams took another hit when safety Nick Ferguson, a defensive starter but also a special-teams contributor, had knee surgery on Tuesday morning. He is out for the rest of the season. He was put on injured reserve and Denver signed former Cardinals safety Quentin Harris.

Denver had a few injuries during Sunday's game, which affected their coverage. Cornerback Darrent Williams, Ferguson and rookie receiver Brandon Marshall were among the players to miss some time on special teams.

"It just takes one or two guys here and there," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I kind of forgot about the injuries during the game but we still have to be better."

Shanahan didn't address whether he would use more starters on special teams in the upcoming weeks to address the matter. He said the execution has to improve and the coaching has to be better, but somehow the Broncos need to find answers.

"I don't know what we're going to do, but we're going to have to do something to be more productive than we've been," Shanahan said.


--The Broncos lost safety Nick Ferguson for the season because of a medial meniscus tear in his knee. Ferguson injured his knee in the first quarter of Sunday's game against San Diego but missed only a few plays.

"It doesn't surprise me a bit," Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. "He's a tough guy."

Curome Cox will replace Ferguson in the starting lineup. Coyer has faith in Cox, who started one game when the Broncos opened up in a five defensive back lineup last year against Philadelphia.

"I have no reservations. None," Coyer said. "He's started for us. He's played for us. It's not like we're putting a raw-butt rookie in there. He's played for us and we have complete faith."

--Quarterback Jake Plummer said he is not worried about more speculation and criticism after a poor game against San Diego last week. He said he has looked at extra film and said he needs to make better reads.

"Just making decisions, making the right decisions," Plummer said. "There were a couple times where we had a play set up that the (defensive) look isn't how we looked at it in practice, and making the right decision and making sure I get a completion."

--The Broncos don't have much time to heal between games this week, and there are plenty of players that could use some extra rest. Receivers Rod Smith and Brandon Marshall, guard Cooper Carlisle, defensive end Kenard Lang and cornerback Darrent Williams all missed at least the team portion of Tuesday's practice and are questionable on the injury report. Running backs Tatum Bell and Mike Bell are also questionable but they practiced Tuesday.

Smith, who has an ankle injury, said he wanted to play.

"I'll put some duct tape on it," Smith said. "Duct tape helps everything. Hopefully it'll be OK. Right now I'm just slow going, but I'll be all right."

BY THE NUMBERS: 3-6 -- Denver's record all-time on Thanksgiving, including a 24-21 overtime win last year at Dallas.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've been on the hot seat all year. If I have one good game, it doesn't mean I'm off it. I'm going to go out and play." - Quarterback Jake Plummer.


The Broncos are lacking depth in the secondary after safety Nick Ferguson's season-ending knee surgery. Sam Brandon, the top backup at both positions, is on injured reserve because of a knee injury. Ferguson was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

Curome Cox, a college cornerback who started playing safety a couple of years ago, will fill Ferguson's starting spot for at least this week. Cox is a smart player and a good athlete, so the Broncos are confident he will fill in capably. Denver signed former Cardinals safety Quentin Harris to take Ferguson's roster spot.


--S Hamza Abdullah is Denver's top backup at safety after Nick Ferguson's injury bumped Curome Cox up the depth chart. Abdullah has played in six career games, all on special teams.

--WR David Kircus could play a lot against Kansas City if Brandon Marshall is limited because of an ankle injury. Marshall and Kircus split time as Denver's third receiver behind Javon Walker and Rod Smith.

--DE Ebenezer Ekuban has played on Thanksgiving five times, the most on the Broncos along with Michael Myers. Myers and Ekuban were teammates in Dallas.

--RB Cedric Cobbs has fallen back on the depth chart. He had a strong preseason but suffered an ankle injury early in the season. He's fourth on the depth chart at tailback.

--FB Cecil Sapp was used on kickoff returns last week because he has good running skills. Sapp was an outstanding college tailback at Colorado State, and he is effective on dive plays from the fullback position.

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