Explosive was the word of the week.
Since Monday, Head Coach Josh McDaniels and his players have talked about the physically gifted players that fill up the Raiders roster. On Friday, the talk turned to special teams.
“They’re the biggest team, the fastest team and the strongest team that you’re going to find in the NFL,” Joe Mays said. “It carries over to their special teams, no doubt.”
As they enter division play, the Broncos are keenly aware of what could happen if they let their focus drop on kicks and punts. They don’t want to allow Oakland’s athletes any momentum-shifting plays like the two punts they blocked — one for a touchdown — in a win against San Diego.
“More than half of the time they are rushing the punter with eight in the box, so protecting the pocket there for the punter is very important,” McDaniels said. “We have been working real hard on that.”
Mays said the key to protecting the punter is keeping up the chatter on the line in order to synch up the protection.
Once the linebacker and his teammates see the punt fly above their heads, they can zero in on a group of Raiders returners who boast track speed. McDaniels cited a 64-yard kickoff return rookie Jacoby Ford ran against the Texans as the type of play the team must avoid.
“He got to the corner and it looked like about 10 guys had an angle on him, and he just went by all of them,” the coach said. “If he hits something full speed, you’ve got a problem because he’ll catch the kickoff and be in the end zone in 10 seconds.”
With team captain Wesley Woodyard and Darcel McBath — last year’s leader in special teams tackles — ruled out of the game for the second week in a row, the team will look to Mays and David Bruton to lead the charge in kick and punt coverage.
Both players play on every special teams unit, and they relayed the same message. As long as everyone does their job, the coverage will stay solid. No one man can dominate that phase of the game.
“We all have a role out there, it’s really not just me alone,” Bruton said. “We all have a part. Some things are schemed for certain players. Without (Woodyard) there, someone has to step up and fill that void.”
Last week, the team brought up rookies Kevin Alexander and Kyle McCarthy from the practice squad to step into special teams spots. On Tuesday, second-year man Diyral Briggs made the same move from practice squad player to active roster member for the same reason.
“(We’ve used a) lot of young players that are really playing important roles for us in the kicking game — and they have to,” McDaniels said. “I think they have a great attitude, a great mindset. All of them want to contribute to our team.”
Since his arrival from San Francisco, Briggs said he’s learned a valuable lesson about life in the NFL from Woodyard, his fellow linebacker.
While he won’t be playing on Sunday, Woodyard’s preparation will carry over into Briggs’ game.
“(Woodyard) breaks down plays to a ‘T’ on special teams. He knows exactly what opponent we’re going to face, what they’re going to do and what they want to do,” Briggs said. “Just by picking up this guy’s habit, I’m learning my opponent really very well. I kind of know what he’s going to do before he does it.”
After spending last season on San Francisco’s active roster and playing in this season’s opener with the 49ers, Briggs is eager to prove his mettle against a Raider’s squad he faced in the preseason.
“I think this is a huge opportunity for me to show not only my players, but my coaches and the people around that I’m capable of making an impact on the team — whether it’s special teams or playing on defense,” Briggs said. “Whatever you need me (for), I’m going to give it my all. That’s what I’ve always been, a player that no matter what, I’m going to give it my all.”
Robert Ayers (foot), Brian Dawkins (knee), Andre’ Goodman (quadricep), Darcel McBath (ankle) and Wesley Woodyard (hamstring) did not practice on Friday and are out for Sunday’s game. Eddie Royal (groin), Champ Bailey (ribs) and Kevin Vickerson (groin) were limited in practice and are questionable for Sunday.
For the Raiders, DT John Henderson (foot), LB Thomas Howard (knee), WR Chaz Schilens (knee) and LB Travis Geothel (back) did not practice on Friday and are out for Sunday’s game. TE Brandon Myers (concussion) did not practice and is questionable. RB Michael Bennett (hamstring) and RB Darren McFadden (hamstring) , S Tyvon Branch (back) and S Hiram Eugene (back), QB Jason Campbell (knee) and QB Bruce Gradkowski (right shoulder), were limited in practice and are questionable for Sunday.
-Gabe Hiatt, DenverBroncos.com
Below are photos from Friday’s practice.