Broncos face some difficult decisions on special teams

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It’s a simple plan for Denver Broncos special teams coach Joe DeCamillis.

Sort of easy as 1-2-3, but it remains to be seen if the Broncos can make it happen before the regular season begins.

“Ideally you’d like to have one punter, one kicker and one long-snapper,’’ DeCamillis said as the offseason program drew to a close. “That’s the amount of specialists we’d like to carry going in and that’s what the goal is going in.’’

Trouble is to make that happen one of the Broncos’ specialists has to step forward in the weeks to come and handle kickoffs as well as either field goal attempts or punts.

Punter Britton Colquitt does not kick off nor does kicker Connor Barth, who was 15-of-16 in field goal attempts last season after the Broncos signed him in November. Brandon McManus was removed from place-kicking duties last season and 28-year-old rookie Karl Schmitz is a rare find in terms of leg strength, but he did not always show consistency as a punter during the offseason workouts.

So, if the Broncos don’t see a double-duty candidate in the group when the roster goes to 53 players, that would mean keeping a third kicker, which would cost a roster spot elsewhere.

And with just two days before training camp opens, we conclude a position-by-position look at where things stand with the team.

Today: Special teams

How many coming to camp: Five specialists -- four kickers and one long-snapper.

How many the Broncos will keep: The most proven combination of kicker and punter for the Broncos would be Barth handling field goal attempts and Colquitt as the punter.

However, that doesn't solve their roster dilemma since neither player is a viable option on kickoffs. Schmitz did all three -- field goals, punts and kickoffs -- when the Broncos elected to give him a workout after seeing him in a kicking combine early in the offseason, but he struggled some early in the offseason as a punter so he would have to show significant progress to dislodge Colquitt from the depth chart.

McManus, too, has the leg strength to be one of the league’s best on kickoffs, but he lost the place-kicking job last season and was inconsistent at times in the offseason program.

The guy to watch: Omar Bolden wasn’t the Broncos’ primary kickoff returner until Week 12 last season, then proceeded to put up three of the Broncos’ four kickoff returns of at least 40 yards over the last six weeks of the regular season.

Bolden also had two of the longest kickoff returns of the season -- 77 and 76 yards -- coming in the Broncos’ last two games of the regular season.

All of that means the Broncos likely won’t wait nearly as long this season to put Bolden in position to show what he can do. Bolden worked as the top kickoff returner in the offseason program and he offers some potential to quickly flip field position.

Break it down: Beyond the significant questions in the kicking game, the Broncos are also on the hunt for a punt returner. And that was a consistently low impact position last season.

In games in which the Broncos had at least one punt return (not including touchbacks, fair catches or punts that landed out of bounds), the Broncos had fewer than 10 yards worth of returns in six games, including their playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts this past January. Overall, they finished tied for 20th in the NFL at 7.2 yards per punt return.

The Broncos also were one of four teams in the league that didn't have a punt return longer than 22 yards for the season. Indianapolis, Chicago and Houston were the others.

Unless they decide to make a late addition in September after cuts are made around the league, the Broncos will try to find a solution in house. The Broncos would use Emmanuel Sanders if they had to, but would prefer to keep Sanders, a starter on offense, out of the mix. Solomon Patton, who returned punts for the Buccaneers last season, was added this offseason and got plenty of work in the offseason.

Jordan Norwood, Isaiah Burse and Kyle Williams -- all wide receivers -- got plenty of work in the offseason program as well. Norwood was poised to make the roster during last summer’s training camp until he suffered a season-ending knee injury.