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What's next for special teams after McManus promoted and Burse waived?

Posted Dec 6, 2014

The decision to promote Brandon McManus and waive Isaiah Burse thrust more change on the Broncos' evolving special teams.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Brandon McManus' promotion back to the 53-man roster from the practice squad puts him in position to do what he does best: kickoffs, a responsibility at which he was the league's third-best before being waived to make room for Connor Barth on Nov. 25.

If the Broncos activate McManus for Sunday's game against Buffalo, the placekicking, kickoff and punting duties could be divided among three players: McManus, Barth and punter Britton Colquitt. This would not be unusual for Head Coach John Fox and Special Teams Coordinator Jeff Rodgers.

In 2008, Fox kept Rhys Lloyd on the Carolina Panthers' roster to handle kickoffs while John Kasay took care of placekicks and Jason Baker punted. This arrangement continued through 2009 and 2010 after Rodgers joined the Panthers' staff. Lloyd led the NFL in touchback percentage in 2008, and was sixth in 2009 and 12th in 2010.

But the biggest question now revolves around punt returns. The release of Isaiah Burse to make room for McManus forces change on that unit, where Burse ranked 20th of 25 punt returners with at least 15 punt reruns this season.

Some of the Broncos' options include using a first-team wide receiver, which would create further injury risk for a now-five-man group which will be without backup Cody Latimer (concussion) and saw Demaryius Thomas miss last Thursday's practice because of a bruised ankle.

The most experienced possibility would be Wes Welker, who returned 10 punts last year for 70 yards, and has 251 returns over his career, more than half of which came in his first three seasons. The Broncos used him last year to catch punts inside the 10-yard-line or in other situations where a premium was placed on ball security.

Another option could be Emmanuel Sanders, who averaged 10.9 yards on 16 punt returns during his four seasons with the Steelers. He has not returned a punt since 2012, although he joined Welker in fielding punts during training camp.

If the Broncos don't want to risk one of their starting wide receivers on punt returns, potential options include Andre Caldwell -- who has one career punt return for no yards and averaged 22.9 yards on 11 kickoff returns this year -- or Omar Bolden, who has emerged on kickoff returns in recent weeks with a 24.9-yard average on seven returns, but has no NFL punt-return experience, and just two punt returns for no yards while playing at Arizona State.

Backup running back Jeremy Stewart has kickoff-return experience with the Raiders and at Stanford, but has not returned a punt in a regular-season game in the college or professional ranks. Rookie running back Juwan Thompson's college return experience was limited to kickoffs.

Rookie cornerback Bradley Roby also returned three punts at Ohio State for a 12.3-yard average.

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