Bienvenidos from INVESCO Field at Mile High, which is bathed in chilly sunlight as a smattering of Broncos and Chargers jog and stroll about the field to begin their warmup paces for the upcoming game between the two longtime rivals.
The bye week may remain a few days in the future, but the midseason changes that accompany the weekend respite began last week with the decision to waive wide receiver and kickoff/punt returner Domenik Hixon, and the subsequent changes on returns have placed special teams in the crosshairs for today’s game.
Hixon ranked in the bottom half of the league’s tables in both kickoff and punt returns, but the team’s issues on special teams extend to kickoff coverage and encompass the entire breadth of the 11 players on the field each time out — not just the men kicking the football or running it back.
“We’ve got to iron that out,” Champ Bailey said last week. “I feel like we’ve got so much talent on special teams but we’re not getting it done. As far I’m concerned it’s the worst in the league as far as field position. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve got to get better.”
No one knows that better than special-teams coordinator Scott O’Brien.
“It’s never going to be good enough,” O’Brien said. “We (want to) play to our standards and we’re not doing that, because we’re way too inconsistent.”
O’Brien now has to work a new punt returner and kickoff returner into the Broncos’ game-day plans. With Hixon now a waiver-wire claim of the New York Giants, running back Andre Hall and wide receiver Glenn Martinez moved up to the first team on kickoff- and punt-return duty, respectively.
Hall last returned kickoffs full-time during his junior season at South Florida, posting a 20.8-yard average on 16 returns with a long of 34 yards.
“He’s starting fresh,” O’Brien said. “”The guy’s a really explosive runner and has good running skills, so we try to get him opportunities in training camp. He was hurt off and on, but he still practiced hard and he never had an opportunity in the preseason. It’ll be new for him, but only new because it’s a game situation.”
As for Martinez, he returned a pair of kickoffs for 42 yards (21.0-average) during the 2005 season with the Detroit Lions, but his next punt return will be his first in the regular season.
“He could do both (kickoffs and punts), but I really like him as a punt returner because he’s elusive and he’s got real good suddenness. He’s got good hands,” O’Brien said.
But even if they and the special teams flourish, O’Brien, a pull-no-punches sort, won’t be satisfied.
“It’s never going to be good enough,” he said.
But for now, O’Brien, Bailey and the rest of the special teams are simply hoping for “better” … a step forward the units need to make beginning today.