To watch the Broncos’ first special-teams training camp session of 2007 wasn’t just about seeing a master at work. It was seeing how well his associates follow his lead in seeking perfection from the players in their charge.
The master’s name? Scott O’Brien, the Broncos’ special-teams coordinator. His assistants? Former Broncos players Jimmy Spencer and Keith Burns and third-year staffer Ryan Slowik. Each had their territory to cover; each had their points to emphasize. With a pair of coaching interns nearby, they went to work, collectively canvassing the entire field as the Broncos worked on kickoffs.
Spencer worked with the kickoff returners — Domenik Hixon, David Kircus, Marquay McDaniel and Quincy Morgan. Slowik lingered back with those working on kickoff coverage. Keith Burns hovered in between, his boisterous voice as loud as it ever was in his playing days. O’Brien’s though, was just as audible from a distance, and like assistant head coach Jim Bates earlier that day, his words blended teaching with encouragement.
But all seek perfection. As Burns ran a drill with a tackling dummy designed to simulate rushing a kick or punt from off the line of scrimmage, he implored his one-time teammates and now protéges to get lower as they surged off the snap, the better to increase their leverage.
“Stay low!” Burns bellowed. “Low man wins!”
And when things didn’t work out, Burns was even more blunt.
“You ain’t going to block —- like that!”
The other drill running concurrently involved Slowik and O’Brien simulating punts off their feet, with players rushing in as though to block the kick. These drills weren’t always staples of past editions of Broncos special-teams practices, but they stand as evidence of the change wrought by O’Brien — and the perfectionism sought so desperately on the field.
So when Domenik Hixon dropped a punt from a JUGS machine later in the session, he went back to the sideline and quickly did 10 pushups.
A relentless pursuit of perfection. Obviously, Hixon is getting the message from his coaches.