Denver Broncos look for a little more happiness in the return game

Kalif Raymond is in camp for his ability to return kicks but the Broncos would like him to also contribute enough at receiver to earn a roster spot. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos don’t need help at many spots on the depth chart.

But one place where the Broncos would like a player to emerge is at punt or kickoff returner.

“We’re going to look at some guys there and see who steps up," coach Gary Kubiak said. "We want to find those guys."

On a roster that’s crowded at plenty of positions, there isn’t much room. But the Broncos are on the hunt for impact players in the return games.

Wide receiver Jordan Norwood, who had six punt returns in the regular season to go with four punt returns in the postseason -- his 61-yard punt return in the Super Bowl win was the longest in the title game’s history -- is in the mix.

Last season it was actually wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders who led the team in punt returns, with 17, but as a regular on offense and one of the key receivers, the Broncos would prefer not to use him on special teams.

Often, because of Sanders’ ability to reliably catch punts, he was put in only to make the catch and he had more fair catches (20) last season than his 17 returns.

“I’ll do whatever they need me to do," Sanders said. “They know that."

The bottom line is, Denver has not had consistent success in the return game. Trindon Holliday was explosive, but he was often a feast-or-famine player as a returner.

Since the start of the 1999 season, the Broncos have not had a player finish in the top 10 in punt return average in a season when they also made the playoffs. Over that same span, they’ve had a little more success with kickoff returns as Holliday (2013), Chris Cole (2003) and Deltha O'Neal (2000) have finished in the league's top 10 in average yards per kickoff return in a year when the Broncos also made the playoffs.

The Broncos did add some potential returners among their undrafted rookies, including Bralon Addison and Kalif Raymond. Both have shown some explosiveness early in camp but they both play wide receiver, a crowded spot on the depth chart.

And Kubiak has consistently said he would prefer if the Broncos didn’t have a specialist as a returner. Raymond had an impact day in Sunday’s practice as a receiver, which caught Kubiak’s eye.

“Kalif is very explosive, not very big, but very explosive," Kubiak said. “I think he understands his role and how he can make this team as a returner, slot-type player for us."

Raymond, is listed at 160 pounds though he says he’s heavier than that. He was clocked electronically at 10.7 in the 100 meters for the Holy Cross track team, which would make him one of the fastest players on the Broncos roster. Raymond also ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at Harvard’s pro day before the draft.

"I’ll go out there and snap the ball if they need me to," Raymond said. "I come out here and make sure whatever they put me at I do it 110 percent, even at receiver or returner."

The four preseason games will have a big impact on the decisions that get made.

“We like the potential in the group, we think we’ll find the guy we want for those jobs," Kubiak said.