|09-07-2007, 03:31 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Hixon to handle return duties
Odds are pretty good right now that Domenik Hixon will be the first Broncos player to touch the ball this season.
The second-year player has nailed down the kickoff-return job after a summer-long battle.
He'll also handle punt-return duties.
"I think every practice and every chance he gets on the field he becomes more comfortable. But it's going to be a learning process for him," Denver special-teams coach Scott O'Brien said in confirming the moves. "I like everything about him physically. He's a hard worker. And I think he's starting to see the whole picture. So I feel good about him."
Hixon missed his entire rookie season with a left foot problem. His opportunities in preseason were limited while Denver sorted out the roster, particularly on kickoffs, when he ran back just one attempt for 33 yards.
But Hixon returned 49 kicks in college at the University of Akron, averaging 23.9 yards, with a 93-yard return for a touchdown. And in his junior season, he ranked sixth in the nation with a school record 17.2-yard average on punt returns. So there appears to be some big-play potential lurking.
Brian Clark and Andre Hall are fallbacks on kickoff returns should Hixon falter, while Dre' Bly is the backup on punt returns.
O'Brien stressed the current situation is a weekly evaluation process, but added he's anxious to see what Hixon can do with the chances.
"The suddenness and explosiveness, he has," said O'Brien, who has coached such return standouts as Jermaine Lewis, Eric Metcalf and Steve Smith in previous pro stops. "The guy's got good size and he's got verified speed out there. But what I really like about him is his ability to gather up and change direction . . . He's got that elusiveness to him that you kind of like."
Hixon maintained he's comfortable with the workload he's gotten this offseason to prepare him for the task at hand.
"The scheme we've got going as far as game-plan wise, we're real confident," Hixon said. "You can just see on film everybody flying around playing football. Now we've got to do it on Sunday."
Defensive coordinator Jim Bates back in June had a modest goal of getting newly-acquired defensive tackle Sam Adams prepared to handle a workload of about 28-30 snaps.
Now, with Adams by far the most experienced interior linemen, the plan may have to change – and not just by necessity.
Adams has shown that perhaps he can handle more game action through his preseason work and wants a heavier dose of game action. He was playing on a balky right knee last season but still managed to regularly play 40 snaps. The knee has responded exceedingly well this summer, and he's been kept fresh by taking periodic practices off.
The 14-year veteran already played 27 snaps in just over a quarter in the preseason game in Dallas.
"They didn't know how I would hold up on my knee," said Adams, who underwent arthroscopic surgery this offseason. "But I'm ready to roll."
Defensive line coach Bill Johnson wouldn't put any benchmarks on Adams' playing time, explaining that the rhythm of the game will help determine that. But he's been impressed with how Adams has gotten himself into shape the past three months.
"He even looks different," Johnson said. "He's brought his weight down and he might even have more stamina."
When Matt Lepsis suits up Sunday at left tackle, it will be the first time since last Oct. 22 he'll have played in a regular-season game.
"It's kind of subtle, because I've been coming to work for awhile now tuning up and everything," he said of his feelings about opening his 11th NFL season while coming off major right knee surgery. "But I think I'm a little more excited to go out than I have been in the past."
Lepsis sat out several days in camp with a groin injury but otherwise feels like he's returned to form in terms of his quickness and movement skills.
"Physically I feel like I'm back," he said. "But I probably won't feel completely back until after this game."
Bad, for starters
Two of the Broncos worst performances over the previous two seasons have come in regular-season openers after a long period of sustained success in Week 1 under Mike Shanahan.
But it hasn't been a subject that's been addressed as of yet with the players, nor were any changes made to the preseason routine to combat those results.
"There's more a feeling the past is the past," safety John Lynch said. "There's so much change on this team. But we've obviously got to come out and play better right away."
Denver is expected to practice earlier Friday in an effort to better adjust to playing early in the Eastern time zone.
• Defensive end Tim Crowder, who sprained his left ankle Aug. 23 only to return for the preseason finale, missed Thursday's practice with similar issues.
• Offensive tackle Adam Meadows (calf) has practiced fully for two days and appears to be the top backup at tackle entering Sunday.
• Tight end Stephen Alexander (calf) worked out fully, one day after he was a limited practice participant.
• The Broncos will elect their team captains Friday.
• Defensive end Simeon Rice worked extra after practice for the second straight day but was non-committal on his playing status. "I don't know yet. I'm still seeing."
.722 winning percentage, a league best, for the Broncos in the first month of the season over the last decade. Denver's 26-10 record is a shade better than both Jacksonville (22-12, .647) and New England (.636).
He said it
"It's a little more complex but we accept the challenge. We're all smart guys and have a tremendous capacity to get the Xs and Os down. And the rest is just ability."
Ian Gold, on the Broncos' linebackers transition to the new scheme