Broncos still on the hunt for returners

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When it comes to the Denver Broncos' starting lineup there aren't a lot of question marks swirling about. But as the team gets ready to open the preseason Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers still has the help wanted sign out.

"There's a role for every type of player in the kicking game," Rodgers said. " ... We want to find those guys in our roster, who have a role on offense or defense where they are a part of the 53 and who can emerge on special teams."

And perhaps topping the list at the moment would be the quest for a kickoff returner and a punt returner. The starting point is the fallback option, in which wide receiver Wes Welker catches some punts and Emmanuel Sanders returns some kickoffs.

Both are proven players in the return role, after all, who have done it when the pressure is on.

However, given Welker's concussion history -- he had two last season -- and his prominent role in the offense, and the fact Sanders is a starter, it's not the most preferable scenario.

Or as Rodgers said wryly: "We're still in evaluation mode. As far as the guys that we have -- pretty likely Wes and Emmanuel are going to make the roster -- so we have those guys who've done it in games in place. What we're looking for in our roster: Can somebody else emerge to take that job?"

The Broncos certainly hope so. Trouble is, so far in training camp no other players have consistently handled the ball the way the Broncos want it done. Even Tuesday, Andre Caldwell bobbled a kickoff in the team's morning practice, but virtually all of the players who have taken a lap as a punt or kickoff returner have bobbled one or two without a defense bearing down.

"We're going to spend the next four weeks evaluating those guys," Rodgers said. "We're definitely going to see what these other guys can do."

Caldwell and defensive back Omar Bolden, who had a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in the 2012 preseason, will get a long look as kickoff returners in the Broncos' four preseason games. Second-round draft pick Cody Latimer has also approached Rodgers about trying to return kickoffs.

Latimer, who will get some snaps on offense in the regular season, didn't return kicks at Indiana, but he did play on kickoff coverage so he's no stranger to special teams work. He also sought out Rodgers to volunteer early on as well. However, Latimer has mishandled a kick or two as he has tried to learn on the job, but physically he had everything Rodgers wants in the job.

"I just feel like the more you can do, the better it is," Latimer said. "I think I can do it with a little work."

"He hit me before I even got to him," Rodgers said. " ... That return thing is unique. But he's big, strong, tough and can run and that's what you'd want to say about your kick returner."

As far as punt returners, rookie wide receiver Isaiah Burse and fifth-year receiver Jordan Norwood will get the first looks. Norwood is currently listed right behind Welker at punt returner on the team's depth chart.

For many of the Broncos who play after the starters put on the baseball caps, Rodgers holds the key for making the roster. Especially for a team with as crowded a depth chart as the Broncos have.

It is special teams that will tip the scales for many players. For some, it may be a job they haven't done before.

"When we go through our draft process as an organization, they allow me to be in there to at least watch the tape and see a guy on tape athletically, you hear the scout's read personality wise and toughness and smarts and all those different things," Rodgers said. "There's a pretty good picture painted of a player as he walks into the building.

"It's about showing them enough things so they can function in the game and then having them kind of learn, the tempo, the speed, the angles," Rodgers added. "There are not a lot of guys who cannot function at all on offense and defense and still make the team on special teams ... You've still got to play a role, but as you start to get down to a game day roster, you have to look at who's going to be ready to play in the regular season and see where they fit on special teams."