ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Special Teams Coordinator Dwayne Stukes spoke to the media last month, he made it clear he wasn't going to beg.
He didn't want to seek out players to serve on his special teams unit; he wanted players who wanted to be involved in that facet of the game.
It's often an unglamorous role. Special teams is hardly ever noticed unless there's a game-changing return — or a back-breaking mistake. Especially for players who were almost all starters at the college level, a special teams assignment could be seen as tedious.
Stukes, though, wants players who relish that challenge — and he may have some in this year's rookie class.
In his post-draft press conference, General Manager George Paton mentioned cornerback Damarri Mathis and safety Delarrin Turner-Yell as potential contributors, and the two players affirmed their willingness to play on special teams this year.
"I'm really comfortable," Mathis said Friday of playing on special teams. "I want to come in here and show all my abilities the best way I can and be a great team player. However I can fit in, [I want to] get in and help the team win."
Turner-Yell echoed Mathis' sentiment on Saturday.
"Anything to help the team win," Turner-Yell said. "If that's me playing on special teams for the entire year, I'm willing to do that. And if I have to come in and play a role on the defensive side, I can also do that. Anything that will lead to us having success, at the end of the day."
And, of course, rookie wide receiver Montrell Washington was brought in for his dynamic return ability, which caught Stukes' eye in a breakout game against Florida.
"When we're doing these drills out here, we want to see their athleticism, and what's big for me too is if kids can learn in the classroom and then transform that to the field," Stukes said specifically of Mathis and Turner-Yell. "We want to see if they can listen, see how smart they are. … Watching these kids run around, I'm not going to say that they're the next whomever, but they do have talent, absolutely. And they can help us on special teams."
Denver could use the help after finishing near the bottom of the league in several statistical categories last year. While the offense and defense tends to merit most of the attention, the Broncos need to show marked improvement in the third phase of the game to realize their ambitions.
If any of the young players need an example of the value of contributing as a special teamer, they don't need to look any further than their coach. After a career at the University of Virginia, Stukes spent four seasons in the NFL, primarily as a special teams player.
"Back in those days when I played — I'm not trying to sound old, but I am 45 — we had to play special teams at Virginia," Stukes said. "Yeah, I started on defense, but I wanted to help our team win. The coach said, 'We want the best players on special teams, as well as on offense and defense.' So whatever it took to help the University of Virginia win games, I was willing to do. I had no problem doing that.
"So, yes, my love for special teams started there, but then once I got to the league, I wasn't a starter anymore. It was eye-opening. At college, everybody is telling you, 'Oh you're great at this, you're great, you're great!' Then you get to the NFL and you have older vets telling you, 'You're not as good as you think you are, rook.' You have to earn your position. You have to earn your spot. The only way that I was going to earn a roster spot was playing special teams. I had John Lynch in front of me. I had Dexter Jackson in front of me. I had Jermaine Phillips in front of me. I had a lot of talented safeties in front of me. So I was like, 'I want to make this team. I will do whatever it takes to make this team.'
"That's what I'm trying to instill in these guys, too, especially younger guys. You have to take advantage of the opportunities you're given, and you have to take hold of that. If you get a shot at taking a job from someone, you have to do it."
It's clear that mindset has already resonated with his players.
"I love what Coach brings to his meetings and his intensity," Washington said. "His mindset, it gets me fired up every time I hear him talk. I'm not going to lie to you, I'd run through a brick wall for coach right now."