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chickennob2
11-07-2011, 11:11 AM
In Denver's two most recent wins, the special teams have come up huge with critical plays that allowed the Broncos to win each game. In Miami, the onside kick recovery while trailing 15-7 was essential for Denver to have a chance in that game. Against Oakland, there's a chance the Denver offense could have driven down the field to break a 24-24 tie, but Eddie Royal's punt return touchdown certainly made things easier.

The special teams have been a weak spot for the Broncos for a while now, especially towards the end of the Shanahan era. Coach Josh McDaniels made special teams a point of emphasis and brought in players specifically for their special teams ability, notably David Bruton, but the special teams continued to have inconsistent play (with a few gems like Eddie Royal's performance against the Chargers in 2009). Now that the Broncos special teams are finally starting to look like a consistent unit (minus a few mental errors involving Chris Harris and the sideline), I was curious to see what the makeup of the special teams squad was. Clearly coaching is a big element, but I wanted to see the breakdown of which special teams performers were brought in by which front office. I didn't break down a season worth of punts and kicks, but I did look at the two biggest special teams plays of the Broncos' season.


onside kick vs miami
Shanahan:
5 - Prater
12 - Willis (finished 2008 on Denver's practice squad)
52 - Woodyard
57 - Haggan

McDaniels:
41 - Vaughn
30 - Bruton

Fox:
29 - Wilhite
56 - Irving
85 - Green
81 - Rosario
25 - Harris


punt return vs oakland
Shanahan:
19 - Royal
52 - Woodyard
12 - Willis
57 - Haggan

McDaniels
35 - Ball
21 - Goodman
30 - Bruton

Fox:
81 - Rosario
56 - Irving
80 - Thomas
29 - Wilhite


So there are, predictably, a lot of rookies on the special teams units, but there are also more holdovers from Mike Shanahan's squad than players acquired by Josh McDaniels. I also thought the Broncos personell choices were worth noting on that onside kick. The Broncos had a good mix of size on the field, but they had almost all of their small guys on the side of the field away from the play. They were lined up like this:

41 - Vaughn
12 - Willis
25 - Harris
30 - Bruton

5 - Prater

56 - Irving
81 - Rosario
57 - Haggan
52 - Woodyard
85 - Green
29 - Wilhite

So you've got a receiver and 4 defensive backs on the field, and you put all of them but Wilhite on the side of the ball away from the play. Wilhite is on the play side, but he's lined up next to the sideline and doesn't factor into the play at all. At the heart of Denver's "hands team" are tight ends and linebackers. Of course, this works out perfectly for Denver as linebacker Nate Irving makes a hard hit and forces a fumble, and tight end Virgil Green uses his good hands to pull it in.