ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos are still five days away from their preseason opener in Chicago, but coach Vance Joseph was willing to name a new starter after Saturday’s practice.
At punt returner.
Yes, Joseph said he’s already seen enough from rookie wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie to say McKenzie is first in line to return punts when the regular season begins.
Asked Saturday about McKenzie’s reliability catching punts in training camp, Joseph went straight to a full endorsement.
“That’s critical as a punt returner. We’ve all seen guys who were really, really fast who couldn’t catch the football,” Joseph said. “I trust him to be our guy Week 1 against the Chargers.”
Asked to simply confirm what he had just said, Joseph followed with: “Absolutely, he’s the punt returner. ... He’s the first guy out.”
The Broncos used one of two fifth-round picks in April’s draft to select McKenzie. And from that moment, they envisioned him as their punt returner.
McKenzie had shown he was one of the fastest wide receivers at the scouting combine, with a 4.42-second clocking in the 40-yard dash (electronically timed), and he closed his career at Georgia with five career punt-return touchdowns and six career return touchdowns in all.
The Broncos also hoped McKenzie would show enough at wide receiver to have a versatile role on offense that could even include a rushing attempt from time to time. He had 37 carries at Georgia with four rushing touchdowns. He averaged 8.9 yards per carry against largely Southeastern Conference competition.
“He’s fast; that’s another thing that we were talking about,” Broncos running back C.J. Anderson said. “Speed kills. He’s as fast as he can be. Having that mobility, you can put him anywhere or line him up anywhere and he can make plays anytime. He’s a home run threat. If we put him in the right position to make those plays, his talent will flourish.”
The Broncos went into the offseason in search of more impact in the return game. It’s a big reason why both McKenzie and Carlos Henderson are part of the draft class.
Henderson, who was one of the best kickoff returners on the draft board, has pressed at times. Joseph has said “he’s trying a little too hard right now.” But McKenzie has shown the on-field composure and the ability rebound from mistakes.
“He is so mature for a rookie,” Joseph said. “He is headstrong. Nothing bothers him. He’s had some bad days and you can’t tell. He’s [as] even as I’ve ever seen a rookie.”